As children of a Jordanian-American mother and a Syrian-American father - both parents practicing Muslims, sisters Jenna and Selma feel fortunate not to have experienced serious racism or bullying at school or in their neighborhood. The Dayton area teens feel lucky they are in a school that supports diversity and enforces a policy of zero tolerance for bullying and racism. They know too, many teens in the Miami Valley face schools and communities where intolerance and even violence are sadly common.
The young woman are part a new program, TIPS: Teens Inventing Peaceful Solutions at the Dayton International Peace Museum, designed to help students directly promote peaceful solutions and to educate their peers even before many problems arise. Jan Futrell heads up the newly inaugurated program and feels most kids are just seeking out adults to help them figure out how to create peace in their schools.
“I think the kids who’ve joined this first group have a piece of themselves that just really want to make peace happen...and they are kind of fishing for a community. Other people to help them do that, people to support them,” says Futrell. The program, although small in it’s first class of students, represents middle and high school student from ten area schools.
Tenth grader Jenna feels TIPS is needed to help teens navigate the social pressures and conflicts that happen in most schools today. “Peace within the smaller communities of schools and just our extra-curricular has a lot socially; so there is bullying and the way you treat others, whether they are black, white, Hispanic...it’s just this social part of it.” She adds that “as youth we have to learn to cooperate with each other.”
Jenna’s father, Saeed feels that Dayton is a welcoming community, even to those who are new to the United States or those who share different ethnic or religious groups. He is confident, the region will support the new program.
“I feel we have all the ingredients required to teach our kids how to make peace and to start living it and start showing it to the rest of the community," says Saeed.
So how do you teach peace to kids? Futrell explains they have invited guest peacemakers who will share their stories of how direct peaceful actions can work to prevent violence and promote dialogue and understanding. Futrell suggests adults will share how they have gone out and “implemented non-violence in a thousand different ways, who will come and say, ‘here’s a little piece of my story’, that kids can grab on to.”
Although Dayton is the home to the Dayton Peace Accords, effectively ending the war in Bosnia twenty years ago, and the home of the only active peace museum in the U.S., the city’s violent crime rate is twice the national average for a city its size.
Futrell feels that if the area is to see any real change, it must start with the youngest members of our community. Futrell feels that “In Dayton in particular, there’s this general underlying tone that Dayton is a peace city, but I don’t think its very present to them how to make that real in their schools.” She adds that “there is a lot more input on how to do violence.”
It’s too early to tell how much impact one modest program with a dozen teenagers and a handful of well-intentioned adults can have on one large and complex community, but it’s too important a problem not to try.
The TIPS students will meet again this week at the Peace Heroes Walk Around the World in downtown Dayton. Area Middle and high school students interested in joining the group can find out more information at the museum’s website: daytonpeacemuseum.org