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Interview with Peace Day Philly

Earlier this year, Spruce was proud to celebrate its 10th anniversary by offering a one-time $5,000 grant to an organization that serves Philadelphia youth in the area of Peacebuilding. In April, we awarded that grant to Peace Day Philly in support of their partnership with Peace Praxis to offer a workshop to youth ages 12-17 on building upstander skills.

Recently we caught up with Peace Day Philly’s founder, Lisa D. Parker, to hear a little more about her organization and cause.

Where did the idea start for Peace Day Philly?

I saw a movie on the BBC in 2009 about the United Nations’ International Day of Peace and the film inspired me to talk to a few people about how we could bring the International Day of Peace to Philadelphia. Things really started moving in the spring of 2011. In that first year we had three events which were a Skype between [University of Pennsylvania] students and youth in Egypt, two seminars we called peace talks, and a multicultural concert.

Have you seen opportunities for technology to play a role in the practice of peacebuilding?

I think there are great things that happen through social media. It helps get the word out quickly if you have a good network, and you can connect with people across the world. Without Skype or Facebook, I would never know what someone in Kuwait is doing, or someone in Australia, or even Cambodia.

For example, the Peace Crane Project teaches kids to make peace cranes and then they send the cranes to kids in other parts of the world. One of the peace crane people was just in Cambodia and she made this short video of the kids saying hi. Just having that video made it so much more meaningful for the Cambodian kids living here. Having access to that technology on your phone breaks down the barriers that make us feel far away from each other.

What kind of organizations usually sign on to partner with Peace Day Philly’s week of activities?

The most wide ranging partner is the Philadelphia Police Department. For every PPD district across the city there’s a community relations officer who is thinking about what would be most meaningful in their district. We also have social service organizations, educational organizations, some anti-violence groups, some groups that relate to world level issues like nuclear nonproliferation, or the environment, and some offices within the city government.

What are some ways that people perceive the impact of your work with the organization?

We really try to connect with people who have a skill in teaching or training. It’s easy for us to say, “We should have a more peaceful world,” but it’s important to have some substance in our programs so people are either learning a new skill, they’re learning knowledge, [or] they’re connecting with one another. If we can do that, then we really feel like there is impact to that.

Have you noticed a change in the way people have engaged with your programming in light of current events?

People are more activated than they’ve been. More and more, everyday citizens are getting involved in causes that are important to them rather than just being on the sidelines. People get interested in asking, “What can I do to be involved and make the world a better place?”

That’s helped us in terms of people wanting to come out to the programs, for sure. I do think there’s always skepticism. The first question the press usually asks is, “Do you think there have been fewer gun violence deaths because of Peace Day Philly?” You wouldn’t measure any other initiative to that standard of being able to stop a homicide. I think the fundamental thing is that we talk about personal, local, and global peace, but peace starts with the individual. It starts internally.

What have been some of the more powerful responses to the workshops and events that you have organized through Peace Day Philly?

The most powerful moments are when people connect human being to human being. When we get connected to that sense of our own shared humanity, that goes beyond language or culture or race. Emotionally, those have been some of the most powerful moments, when people have felt safe to stand up and say something about their experience coming here as a refugee, or a youth who was depressed. Just people opening up in such courageous ways, and feeling like I have the privilege to connect with them and talk with them.

If you’re interested in learning more about Peace Day Philly, check out their website and find out about their events, or just follow them on Facebook or Twitter and shout them out for doing some really great work!
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.