One-Year Project Supports ‘Proactive’ Peace Building
With commanding views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor, Jersey City is unsurprisingly a melting pot of immigrants—recently named as the most diverse city in the United States based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A part of the New York metropolitan area, Jersey City in neighboring New Jersey draws strength from its diversity. But it also confronts challenges to social cohesion due to violent crime and other economic and social stresses.
To address these sobering trends, which are shared by many cities, Global Peace Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Administration on Children and Families and Cooperation Ireland, launched the Cross-Community Engagement (CCE) pilot program in Jersey City during a four-day training program on July 17-21, 2016. The program is a proactive approach for prevention of conflict and extremism, with an emphasis on youth leadership development.
CCE engages small groups of Latino, African American, Asian, Caucasian and Arab youth. It fosters long-term peacebuilding and positive youth leadership development. Over the course of the next 9-12 months, youth will participate in a series of workshops, field trips and activities designed to build cross-cultural relationships.
Through a facilitated community mapping process, youth will design and implement a community service or social enterprise project to address a need in their own community—putting their acquired leadership skills into practice. By the end of the program, youth will have resume-worthy training, community development expertise and real-life entrepreneurial experiences in implementing a social enterprise project.
The CCE approach in Jersey City is based on Cooperation Ireland’s 30-year history working with Protestant and Catholic youth and encouraging interaction, dialogue and practical collaboration within Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Locally, GPF has engaged additional stakeholders including the U.S. Administration on Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Jersey City Police Department, Board of Education and others, to tailor the program to a diverse, urban American setting.
“We want more prevention and less crisis intervention,” said Cat Lockman, a program organizer and Director of Organizational Development for the Global Peace Foundation. “Sometimes we wait until a crisis happens to put the fire out. This is a way to prevent the fire, to proactively prevent violence and respond to issues confronting these communities.”
In part 1 of the program on July 18 and 19, GPF USA and Cooperation Ireland conducted a joint training program with local grassroots leaders to share their best practices and build connections among the different cultural and religious groups in the city.
Cooperation Ireland’s New Technology Manager, Dr. Alan Largey, and Youth and Community Facilitator, Mr. Barry Fennell, led the training. Dr. Largey discussed some of the lessons they had learned in addressing conflict in Northern Ireland. He also described the distinct challenges posed for peacebuilding in conflict and post-conflict societies around the world. Initially, he said, a peacekeeping phase is focused on stopping the violence. There follows a peacemaking phase where institutions may be in place but the two communities did not want to deal with each other. “The peacebuilding process is bringing these two communities together.”
After part 1 of the program, facilitators organized two youth sessions. These sessions trained youth leaders in the specific process of engaging youth, understanding small group dynamics, and educating individuals to go beyond self-interest or identity-based outlooks.
Mr. Dan Wiley, Senior Program Manager of Jersey City Department of Recreation, saw the CCE initiative as an important approach with applications in other cities. The training session, he said, is a significant opportunity to “build a model that can be replicated across not only this state but across this nation.”
Through this pilot initiative, the Global Peace Foundation intends to measure the empirical impact on identity-based attitudes and behaviors as a basis for cross community engagement in other cities. Rutgers University is an evaluation partner in this initiative.