Celebrating the Graduation of the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows

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By Burrell Poe
Director, Chicago Peace Fellows

On the evening of November 3, 2021, the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows gathered to mark, honor and reflect on nine months of shared learning and growth as they celebrated the completion of the Chicago Peace Fellows program. The Fellows were cheered on by friends, family, civic leaders, and Peace Fellow alumni as they each crossed the stage to receive their graduation certificate.

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The 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows are 22 grassroots leaders from 14 community areas on the South and West sides of Chicago dedicated to addressing the root causes of violence.  Since their first meeting in March, these Peace Fellows have spent nine months learning and working together as a community of practice. 

This graduation event was full of hope, joy and mutual appreciation for the immense work done by the Peace Fellows and their organizations. Despite the many challenges of this year, the 2021 cohort connected meaningfully with one another, as evidenced by the atmosphere of the event, and formed long-lasting bonds based on trust and respect.

Founded in 2019, in collaboration with the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the Chicago Peace Fellows program is the only leadership development program that is built by and for grassroots community leaders on the South and West sides of Chicago. This was the third year the Goldin Institute hosted the program, and over the course of nine months, the Chicago Peace Fellows learned together through the Goldin Institute's GATHER platform to explore topics such as intersectionality, asset-based community development, appreciative inquiry, and other core community driven social change topics. Through these topics the Fellows developed a shared language and understanding and were able to put these principles into practice.

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The Fellows put the core social change principles explored through the curriculum into practice in the real world, carrying out community asset mapping, using appreciative inquiry tools to frame conversations, and hosting open conversations with community members about how to remove barriers to full participation so that everyone can contribute. Through a wide range of meetings and events, the Fellows connected with each other and with leaders across the city who are similarly focused on promoting peace and justice.

The Fellows participated in over 50 workshops, and made connections with a wide range of organizations including the University of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Chicago Park District, leading philanthropic organizations, business leaders, the Mayor's Office and many more.

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As part of their work together, the Chicago Peace Fellows designed, developed, and funded 7 Peace Building Projects across the city that seek to address the issues most important to the group. This year the Fellows were able to equitably allocate over $40k to these community projects, a true reflection of their strength as leaders and team members.

The graduation event drew 80 civic leaders, family and Alumni to the elegant Morse Genius Chicago Room at the Chicago History Museum. The graduation ceremony was developed and hosted by the Chicago Peace Fellows themselves, through a process of co-creation and co-facilitation.  The Fellows shared their wisdom and accomplishments in remarks was punctuated by solemn remembrances, times of joy, and eloquent reflections on the power of collaboration as a community of practice.

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Several Fellows powerfully and personally shared what they accomplished, what they learned and what the future might look like for this community of practice. There was an original poetic performance by Messiah Equiano entitled ChiRise, and the mood and momentum of the event were buoyed by the drumming of the Original Sixty Fourth Street Beach Drummers.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the Fellows were presented with a surprise address by Mayor Lori Lightfoot who congratulated them on this momentous achievement. The night ended with hugs and celebration, a happy reprieve considering this hard year for communities across the city.

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After eight intense months of virtual meetings, sharing ideas, and experiences. It was wonderful to gather together and celebrate our accomplishments. The graduation signifies that the collective work we set out to do has not ended but continues. -- Mekazin Alexander

While the Fellows celebrated their achievements, there was acknowledgement of the many challenges that remain ahead. However, the evening made clear that the strength and resilience of the Chicago Peace Fellows will continue to shine as they join the growing network of 60 Peace Fellow Alumni who will work together to build a more safe, just and peaceful city.

Congratulations to all of the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow Graduates!

The Goldin Institute thanks the Chicago Community Trust, the Conant Family Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, the MacArthur Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Seabury Foundation, the Walder Family Foundation, the Williams Family Foundation and our partners at the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities for supporting the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows.

Download the Graduation Booklet to Learn More

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