Chicago Peace Fellows Launch Peace Building Projects

By Burrell Poe
Director, Chicago Peace Fellows

After four months of intensive learning as a community of practice, the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows have put the principles of community driven social change into practice by launching seven peace building projects in Chicago.


As violence rises in Chicago and communities across the country, these projects are both urgent and critical to bring peace and safety to our neighborhoods.  These projects were designed by Peace Fellows to model the structural changes they seek: collectively they are 22 grassroots leaders who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides, and they practice a liberatory model of shared leadership, collaborative decision-making and collective action.


As grassroots leaders, Peace Fellows are responding to the racial unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which are compounding the challenges of violence that most impact communities on the South and West sides. The spirit of collaboration and the commitment to equity and justice runs deep amongst the Chicago Peace Fellows, and these co-designed projects collectively help get to the root issues driving violence.

These projects were designed in a highly collaborative series of workshops with a foundation of trust that was built on months spent learning together through the GATHER Platform where Fellows explored the principles of community driven social change like asset mapping, community engagement, framing issues, intersectionality, appreciative inquiry and frameworks for community leadership.  The Fellows had a pooled fund of $44,000 that they allocated in a participatory and collective process to underwrite these projects.


With a dedicated pool of funds provided by philanthropic leaders in Chicago, the Fellows dove in to the hard work of collectively designing projects and allocating the resources to make them happen.

Over a series of intense and collaborative workshops, the Peace Fellows designed and funded seven peace building initiatives:

  • Higher Ground Development: This team will focus on using tiny homes and other architectural designs to help address issues of affordable housing and support people experiencing homelessness by activating vacant lots that are owned by the community.
  • We Are Survivors: Gun violence injures more than the direct victims and often leaves invisible wounds for the families and friends of the victims. Led by Peace Fellows who know too well the pain of losing family and friends, We are Survivors will be an event featuring social services, food and games for other survivors, their families and communities to have a day of peace, celebration and healing.
  • All City Youth Summit: The Youth Summit will be an opportunity for young people to come together to talk about the issues they are facing and a chance to connect to each other, participate in workshops and gain employment skills. The first action of this group is to assemble young people who are participants in the programs of various Chicago Peace Fellow organizations and to learn from them what they would like to use this time and space to do.
  • We Care Van: Centered around healing, the We Care Van is a pilot project that will start with a series of community engagements to bring a healing presence in communities highly impacted by gun violence. These pop-up events will bring licensed therapists, artists, food and caring neighbors to help communities who have recently experienced acts of violence.
  • Crime Stoppers: This group is focused on connecting with people who are at highest risk of being a victim and / or perpetrator of crime. Crime Stoppers is an effort to learn and support efforts that get at the root of why individuals engage in crime and how to prevent it. Composed of grassroots leaders, Crime Stoppers is an intentional effort by the community to make neighborhoods safer for everyone by engaging those most at risk.
  • Our Story, Our Lives: This project will focus on getting young people to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities. Young people will share these stories in creative ways of their own choosing. This program seeks to unlock the native talents of young people and highlighting their unique insights into building a more peaceful and just future.
  • Peace Fellows Retreat: The Chicago Peace Fellows retreat is an opportunity for members of the 2021 cohort of Fellows to get out of the city and participate in self-care, healing and bonding activities. The retreat will happen this fall and is meant to serve as a space for leaders to reflect together on how they can stay connected and centered for the long term.




The 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows program is made possible by support from the Goldin Institute, the Conant Family Foundation, the Seabury Foundation, the Williams Family Foundation, the Walder Family Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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