By Ethan Michaeli, Senior Advisor

Happy New Year from the Goldin Institute! 2019 was a momentous year with the debut of the Chicago Peace Fellows, our fellowship for grassroots organizers in our home town, and numerous accomplishments for the international graduates of GATHER, our integrated curriculum and tablet-based software.

Below we’ve created a month-by-month timeline with links to articles celebrating the achievements of 2019.

We’re certain you’ll agree it was a momentous year for all of our partners, and we’re so grateful for your support and attention. Thank you for sharing the journey with us:

January – The year began with a conversation with key civic leaders and community stakeholders who helped shape the Chicago Peace Fellows program to be a truly unique approach that would provide training and resources as well as an expanded network to organizers working in city neighborhoods contending with disproportionate levels of crime and violence.

Malya Villard-Appolon, a Global Associate at the Goldin Institute based in Haiti who co-founded KOFAVIV, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, wrote a moving reflection on the decade since an earthquake devastated her homeland.

February – We published an array of commentaries to mark International Women’s Day. Cynthia Austin, a California-based graduate of GATHER, wrote about her work empowering survivors of sexual violence and trafficking. GATHER alumnus Michelle Kuiper related her experiences getting legislation passed in her state of Kentucky, while Uganda-based GATHER graduate Diana Alaroker described teaching women and girls in a region recovering from civil war.

The founder of the Goldin Institute, Diane Goldin, reflected on 16 years of collaboration with grassroots leaders and especially on the foundational role of women in our work.

The same month, Jimmie Briggs, the Goldin Institute’s coordinator for community learning and collaboration, led an online training for all the GATHER alumni on fundraising.

GATHER alumnus Geoffrey Omony, the founder of Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED), the first organization in Uganda designed and run by former child soldiers, and Global Research Fellow Jassi Sandhar released a graphic novel about the lives of young people in the Gulu region who were forced to become participants as well as victims of the long-running civil war.

March – The month began with “Confessions of a Rebel Architect,” a provocative essay from Goldin Institute Chief of Staff Oz Ozburn calling for a greater sense of social responsibility in her profession.

Just a few days later, we announced the names of the Peace Fellows, 18 community leaders from 14 different neighborhoods who had gone through an extensive application process and were committed to learning together and intervening in the violence that impacts too many of Chicago’s families.

The Peace Fellows hit the ground running, using the tablets with the pre-loaded GATHER software for their on-line lessons, but also coming together in person to absorb the principles of the course and share their own expertise.   

In the middle of the month, the Fellows attended the City Club of Chicago’s conclave on Crime and Criminal Justice and then later did a group tour of the University of Chicago Hospitals’ Trauma Center, where they met with staff and discussed new strategies to promote healing and recovery as well as the interruption of violence.

The Peace Fellows capped off their first month with their first online group meeting with the international graduates of GATHER, a workshop with Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning with the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

April – At the beginning of this month, the Peace Fellows continued their work on evaluation by participating in a presentation with another longtime Goldin Institute ally, DePaul University Professor Lisa Dush, who is conducting a formal evaluation of the GATHER software.

To study how art and social justice can inform and strengthen each other, the Peace Fellows met with  artists Tonika Johnson, Jane Saks, Rahmaan Statik and Cecil McDonald.

Individual Peace Fellows took the initiative to host their peers. Alex Levesque at the Automotive Mentoring Group invited the other Chicago Peace Fellows to visit his organization to determine the principles and practices that empower shared learning.

The Peace Fellows are all veteran community organizers, and Dr. Sokoni Karanja shared his thoughts about the program and his connections with the other Fellows.

In the middle of the month, the Fellows came together to share asset maps of their communities that include all of the leaders, informal institutions and other resources.

Peace Fellow Jeannette Coleman, director of I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER UNITY DAY, a not for profit community outreach program in the South Shore neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, wrote about the history of her organization and about the positive alternatives they provide for young people.

The circle of advisors the Goldin Institute assembled at the end of the month to review the Peace Fellows’ progress.

May – The Peace Fellows began the month by touring Breakthrough Ministries, a facility on the West Side working with people returning from prison. Program Coordinator Burrell Poe wrote that the Fellows met on site to learn about Appreciative Inquiry, an essential technique the Goldin Institute has employed successfully with its fellows all around the globe.

To help them amplify their voices in civic affairs, they attended another City Club of Chicago luncheon, this time featuring Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

In the middle of the month, Peace Fellow Robert Biekman, a pastor on Chicago’s South Side, authored a personal essay in which he described his personal experience with the curriculum, which had increased his personal capacity as a leader as well as the capacity of his organization, the Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration Collaborative.

Delasha Long, the Goldin Institute’s Media and Content Specialist, profiled Peace Fellow Jamila Trimuel, who hosted the 2019 Recognition Ceremony to honor high school and eighth grade graduates involved in her innovative, highly recognized program Ladies of Virtue.

Among the international alumni of GATHER, a special honor was accorded to Jamal Alkirnawi, CEO of a New Dawn in the Desert, a Bedouin-Jewish organization in Rahat, Israel. Jamal was named as one of 12 prominent torch lighters for Independence Day in Israel.

At the end of the month, the Peace Fellows came together for a powerful meeting with the staff of activists at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, who are teaching non-violence techniques in some the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence.

June – Peace Fellow Gloria Smith reflected on her unique path to becoming executive director of the Black Star Project based in Chicago’s South Side. Smith took the helm of the Black Star Project after her brother, the organization’s founder, passed away.

In a dispatch from Uganda, Geoffrey Omony described the ‘Community Parliaments’ YOLRED organized to create a space for discussion, truth and healing in his community.  

GATHER Alumnae Cynthia Austin wrote an essay to celebrate the first anniversary of Shyne, the organization she founded to help survivors of sex trafficking build safe and productive futures in San Diego and other parts of Southern California.

Peace Fellow Robin Cline, assistant director of NeighborSpace, wrote about exciting new concepts to reform philanthropy and make more resources available to those working at the grassroots.  

In the remote, impoverished town of Mthatha, South Africa, Dieudonne Allo shared excited news about being selected for the 2019 Red Bull Amaphiko Academy and about new partnerships between his organization, the Global Leading Light Initiative, and other GATHER alumni in Chicago and San Diego.

Peace Fellow Maria Velasquez hosted her peers at the Telpochcalli community organization, which is based in the Telpochcalli Elementary School in Little Village, a neighborhood with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking residents and immigrants from across Central and South America.

The Peace Fellows conducted a series of meetings with key institutions to assess how they could establish partnerships to reduce violence in the city’s neighborhoods. The Fellows spoke with top officials at the Chicago Park District to discuss how that agency is using its facilities and staff around the city. At the Field Museum of Natural History, they were invited to inspect and comment on a controversial exhibit that is being revised to reflect current standards as well as its historical legacy.

July – Sokoni Karanja wrote about the Family and Youth Peace Day, one of eight summer projects the Peace Fellows collectively planned and funded. More than 200 people came out to the event in the Bronzeville neighborhood for positive activities.

The Peace Fellows returned to the Institute for Non-Violence Chicago for a specialized, intensive training session in Non-Violence as it was practiced by Martin Luther King Jr.

Continuing their discussions with civic leaders, the Peace Fellows met with Ald. Walter Barnett, one of the Chicago City Council’s veterans and a principle advocate of new approaches to stopping violence in the city.

In the interest of discovering best practices across the Midwest, the Peace Fellows visited an innovative anti-violence program in Indianapolis.

Late in the month, the Peace Fellows presented their progress through the course, and their plans for summer projects to staff and grantees of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a grant initiative that pools funds from multiple area philanthropies to try and obviate violence in the city.  

Finally that month, the Fellows attended “Black and Brown Lives in Green Spaces: Race and Place in Urban America,” a panel discussion at the DuSable Museum.

August – GATHER alumni Lissette Mateus Roa from Colombia, and Diana Alaroker and Geoffrey Omony from Uganda led an online conversation about mitigating trauma for former child soldiers with the other GATHER alumni as well as the Chicago Peace Fellows.

Peace Fellow Jeanette Coleman recounts the experiences she had during the Youth Exchange, a summer project which brought together teenagers from different Chicago neighborhoods together for an overnight retreat in a Wisconsin forest.  

Peace Fellow Gloria Smith described the robust on-line discussion with Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth.” Villanueva’s ideas for a major overhaul of the priorities and procedures of major philanthropies found a receptive audience among the Peace Fellows and GATHER alumni.

In addition to meeting on-line with the GATHER alumni, the Peace Fellows toured additional sites and institutions in Chicago to expand their network and amplify their voices. At the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank, they met with Studio Gang’s Urbanism and Civic Impact team to explore the Role of Urban Planning and Design in Peace-building and Violence Prevention.  A few days later,the Fellows toured the University of Chicago Urban Labs to learn more about the work of the Crime Lab.

September – Early in the month, GATHER alumnus Michelle Kuiper led an on-line discussion on women’s issues with GATHER’s global alumni as well as Chicago Peace Fellows.

Program Coordinator Burrell Poe reported on the Passport 2 Peace events, which were part of the Peace Fellows’ collaborative projects. Fellow Robert Biekman, who hosted one of the events in his neighborhood park, described a fun-filled day that drew hundreds of residents for activities focused on healing and development.  

With the Peace Fellows moving into the final phase of the program, the Goldin Institute convened the civic leaders who have served as a circle of advisors and reviewed the Fellows’ progress.

In Cameroon, GATHER alumnus Alexander Gwanvalla hosted a workshop on how to build on community assets for grassroots leaders of Nsongwa Mile 90, an area with high levels of recruitment of child combatants and separatist fighters.

Lo Ivan Castillon, a GATHER alumnus based in the Philippines, sent an update on the organization he founded, the Volunteers’ Initiatives in Bridging and Empowering Society (VIBES), which is involving young people in various projects all designed to rebuild and heal a region that his wracked by civil war and natural disasters.

At the end of the month, GATHER alumnus Dieudonne Allo from South Africa stopped in Chicago during his American tour, and met with Peace Fellow Jacquelyn Moore to plan their youth robotics projects. Dieudonne’s visit fortuitously coincided with the arrival of Ceasar McDowell, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been a senior advisor to the GATHER program since it was first conceived. Ceasar was in town to give an inspiring lecture at Depaul University entitled “Dialogue in Demographic Complexity: Overcoming Our Discriminatory Consciousness.”

October – Goldin Chief of Staff Oz Ozburn wrote about a partnership between the Peace Fellows and DePaul University’s Technology for Social Good Lab to create a city-wide “Living Asset Map” which will connect grassroots leaders with a range of civic institutions dedicated to peace building.

This month also saw the fruition of the Goldin Institute’s partnership with the Voices & Faces Project and Brothers Standing Together, an organization founded by GATHER alumnus Raymond Richard, to lead “Testimony & Transformation: A Writing Workshop for Returning Citizens.”

In a special report from Kenya, Gather Alumnae Mariam Ali Famau announced the launch of Women of Faith in Action, a new program to stop the recruitment of children into armed conflict. A single mother herself, Mariam teaches young women self-empowerment and entrepreneurship in a community where there are perilously few economic opportunities.

November – The Goldin Institute celebrated the graduation of the inaugural class of Chicago Peace Fellows on November 14, culminating months of collaborative learning and implementation. The Peace Fellows immediately joined GATHER’s global alumni network, and have already started working on joint efforts across borders.

GATHER alumnus Yusuph Masanja from Tanzania contributed a special essay to commemorate a major milestone in his life, a journey to the Arctic Circle with explorer Sir Robert Swan. In the first episode of “The Polar Bear Talks,” Yusuph describes the support he received from many for his journey, including anthropologist and primatologist Dr. Jane Goddall. In the second episode, Yusuph narrates the journey itself. Don’t miss the video of Yusuph’s dip in icy waters!

December – GATHER alumnae Lissette Mateus Roa wrote a dispatch from Colombia, where there are mass protests against systemic problems afflicting the nation; a failing health care system, an ill-equipped, under-resourced education system, inequality, impunity and rampant corruption.

South African GATHER alumnus Dieudonne Allo finished the year on a note of a triumph, reporting on a highly successful Acceleration Summit he hosted to boost the youth programming of the Global Leading Light Initiative.

Thank you to our global network of grassroots champions whose support made this momentous year possible!  We look forward to your continued support for community-driven social change in 2020!