N. Mpls activist learns lessons in peace from Kenyan youth

By Annette Smith

Contributing Writer

 

Annette Smith (2nd from l) with youth
at the “Alternatives to Violence” workshop in Kenya.

Kenya experienced high levels of violence (death, displacement, injury, destruction and theft of property) during their presidential elections in 2008. I am a member of the Minneapolis Friends Meeting who was chosen to attend a worldwide conference of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Kenya. During this conference, I had the amazing experience of attending a pre-conference youth-led “Alternatives to Violence” workshop in northern Kenya.

A series of workshops have been happening in Kenya in preparation for the upcoming 2012 elections and to prepare young people for living together in harmony: finding peaceful ways to face real differences and resolve conflict while building a new future for their country.

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As a lifelong resident of Minneapolis

(the last 15 years on the North Side),

I could see some similarities

in the challenges our youth face to

the challenges facing young Kenyans.

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Twenty-one youth gathered in the small town of Turbo and were led by three youth facilitators in exercises that build what the Alternatives to Violence calls “transforming power,” which is a spiritual but not a religious concept that relies on the following practices:

• Listen before making judgments.

• Seek to resolve conflicts by reaching common ground.

• Expect to experience great inward power to act.

• Risk changing yourself. Be ready to revise your position if it is wrong.

• Ask yourself for a nonviolent way. There may be one inside you.

With a long history of tribal differences (promoted, sometimes invented, and used by the British during the colonial period), it was a challenge for the youth to view each other and to see problem solving in a new way. I was touched by the vulnerability, openness and positive energy of the participants.

As a lifelong resident of Minneapolis (the last 15 years on the North Side), I could see some similarities in the challenges our youth face to the challenges facing young Kenyans. Many conflicts youth deal with have a history of resentment, revenge and payback. How can unity and harmony be created? How can our youth express their leadership in a way that is good for the community?

After participating in the Alternatives to Violence workshops, Kenyan youth can attend other workshops, including one that instructs and practices speaking “truth to power” — how to unite and bring concerns and ideas to policymakers, and how to become a policymaker. That, too, seemed to be a good model or practice for my own North Minneapolis community.

I saw a bumper sticker recently that said “Youth are not the problem, they are the solution.” The youth I met in Kenya and the youth I meet in my own neighborhood affirm that wise proposition.

 

If you are interested in supporting a community conflict resolution initiative in Minneapolis/St. Paul, email nettiekay.smith@gmail.com.