Learning Together with the Chicago Peace Fellows

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Senior Advisor, Communications and Development

After her son Darren was shot to death in 2012, Lisa Daniels was frustrated that media coverage focused exclusively on his criminal record. Her son made bad decisions with consequences he didn’t anticipate, but he was a loving child, father and loyal friend, and Lisa felt strongly that he should be remembered for more than just his worst mistake. She founded the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Justice to help other young men and their mothers in similar situations, beginning her work by showing compassion for the young man who killed him, asking the court for leniency.

“Like each and every one of us, Darren was a flawed human being, created in God's perfect image. Without the Center, his life would have ended in a blaze of gunfire. Now it carries on in an illumination of promise, of hope, of love.” -- Lisa Daniels

The Goldin Institute recently selected Lisa and 18 other compassionate, resourceful individuals for the first cohort of Peace Fellows in partnership with the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities. In the months ahead this groundbreaking collaboration between the Conant Family Foundation and the Goldin Institute will support neighborhood-level initiatives to build safer and more peaceful communities across the city.

Travis Rejman welcomes the Chicago Peace Fellows to the Goldin Institute's global network of grassroots leaders in over 50 countries.

 

On March 8, Lisa attended the launch event for the Peace Fellows at DePaul University’s downtown campus along with other grassroots leaders. Expressing her hopes and expectations for the Peace Fellows, Lisa said, “Give me all the information I need to do what I need to do.”

Another Peace Fellow, Ken Butler, executive director of the Major Adams Community Committee in the North Lawndale neighborhood, was thrilled to be sharing experiences and best practices as well as pitfalls with other practitioners. 

“A lot of the time, when you’re the head of an organization, they won’t tell you it’s bunk. But I really need honest feedback to know I’m on the right track.” -- Ken Butler

Commenting on her first day meeting with the Fellows, Maria Velasquez, executive director of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project in the Little Village neighborhood, worked with other groups.  “I’m very structured, but it’s important to be flexible too,” Maria said.

Lisa Dush of StudioChi at DePaul invites the Fellows to participate in an evaluation of the GATHER platform.

John Zeigler, director of the Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships, welcomed the Peace Fellows to DePaul by defining the concept of ‘servant leaders,’ individuals who put the idea of service foremost, and adhere to principles that include empathy, healing and awareness. Grassroots leaders, however, need to work through organizations and institutions, Zeigler explained, and require empowerment as well as training to lead effectively.

“It’s not enough to train servant leaders unless you train servant structures.” -- John Zeigler

Expressing her enthusiasm for the Peace Fellows’ debut, Leslie Ramyk, executive director of the Conant Family Foundation, added that philanthropies supported grassroots leaders to identify and develop solutions to problems at the neighborhood level.

“When it comes to issues you’re facing in your communities, I’m not the expert,” Leslie said.

“This is about you telling us what’s needed. This is your time, your space. You don’t need to impress anyone, except maybe each other.” -- Leslie Ramyk

Goldin Institute Advisor Gabe Gonzalez facilitates conversation on the topics and issues that Chicago Peace Fellows most want to explore.

In his remarks, Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman said the Chicago Peace Fellows culminated 17 years of work around the world. In 2002, the Goldin Institute convened dozens of international grassroots leaders and chartered the organization’s mission based on their ideas, challenges and aspirations.

“You are joining a group of people who want to learn together, who are not just in Chicago but around the world. The Peace Fellows initiative is the latest expression of the mission of the Goldin Institute.” -- Travis Rejman

Each Peace Fellow received a stipend and a specially configured iPad loaded with the GATHER curriculum and integrated software. Goldin Institute senior staff created the Peace Fellows curriculum based on our 17 years of experience building the capacity of grassroots organizations around the world, and after extensive discussions with community leaders, scholars, government officials and key figures at area institutions.

Chicago Peace Fellows discuss what they learned through the Leadership Compass exercise.

The Fellows are learning cutting-edge concepts such as asset mapping and conflict resolution, conducting site visits to organizations and foundations here in Chicago, and meeting virtually with experts and other community leaders around the world. Most importantly, they are sharing their own hard-earned wisdom based on practical experience as they prepare for the summer, when they will have an opportunity to use the new techniques and concepts they’ve learned in collaborative projects that will be funded by the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities to obviate violence and remediate its consequences.

The Peace Fellows were chosen through an intensive application and interview process drawing from the ranks of previous grantees of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a coalition of 40 foundations that are aligning their investments to support proven and promising approaches to reducing gun violence.

 

Special thanks to DePaul University for hosting our first in-person meeting and to the generous support from the Conant Family Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, Chase Bank and the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities that makes this work possible.

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