By Jamika Smith, Tina Gulley-Augustus, Don Williams, Jacqueline Williams, and Cree Noble

On September 29th, 2022, 14 grassroots leaders from across Chicago gathered at the Chicago History Museum to celebrate their achievements as the fourth cohort to graduate in the Chicago Peace Fellows program.

The Chicago Peace Fellows (CPF) program spanned over six months with over 25 workshops, partnership meetings, and discussions that helped Peace Fellows to deepen their shared understanding of grassroots leadership, violence prevention and community driven social change.

Some of the greatest learning experiences were the collaboration of the Peace Fellows in developing community asset maps and recognizing how rich our communities look when we viewed them from an asset standpoint instead of a deficit. Our communities are so rich in knowledge, resources, and talents.” — Tina Gulley Augustus, 2022 Chicago Peace Fellow

This was the second year that the Chicago Peace Fellows Graduation was hosted at the Chicago History Museum. The space was filled with laughter, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and music by a performance from a youth band from Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center playing Caribbean Jazz. The balcony gallery, just before you enter the great hall, was lined with pictures of the 2022 Peace Fellows. The gallery is named after the late Mrs. Josephine Baskin Minow, a community organizer, and advocate, who fought for many years for social justice and equal rights, to improve the quality of life for others much like the Chicago Peace Fellows. 

Gallery displaying pictures of the 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows

The graduation program was created by the Fellows to highlight their experiences, learnings and accomplishments. They incorporated personal testimonies, group facilitation, spoken word, asset mapping, and interactive programs into the design of the agenda. These activities were chosen due to the influence they had on each Fellow and how they allowed us to connect to our communities, family, and friends who were all in attendance at the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony began with a welcome remark from the Director of the Chicago Peace Fellows, Burrell Poe, who spoke about the impressive effort, work and conversations this group of fourteen leaders had undertaken over the past five months. Following Burrell, Fellow Lindsey Joyce opened the space with a prayer and reflection. After this opening reflection, Chicago poet Brynn Baltimore offered a powerful spoken word piece performance. The fourth speaker was CPF Don Williams, who provided a personal testimony about the loss of his son and how he had turned pain into purpose.

“​​My tribute to my son Deon J. Williams left me with a lot of mixed emotions about March 9, 2019… getting up there speaking about it brings some comfort and steps of me getting some closure. Deon was my baby. I wish things would have been different that day and that he would still be here. But that is why I started the Deon J. Williams Foundation, so that I could bring some awareness to juvenile law to change. I want to give a special thanks to my newfound family, the Peace Fellows. Thanks for allowing me to share my story. I hope I can impact someone.” – Don Williams (2022 Chicago Peace Fellows)

After Don’s powerful testimony, all 2022 CPF joined on stage to introduce themselves and the community they serve, and answer the question: “If violence disappeared tomorrow, what would be possible in my neighborhood?”, group presentation which was led by 2022 CPF Syliva Del Raso. Once the Fellows had shared their answers, they invited the audience to contribute to the question by writing it on a sticky note and placing it on a poster board. 

The second part of the ceremony was an explanation and presentation of what asset maps were. Fellows presenting their asset maps included Maria Pike (representing Pilsen), Edwin Martinez, and Sylvia Del Raso (representing Little Village), and Jackie Williams, Jamika Smith, Xochtil Hubbell-Fox, and Tina Gulley-Augustus (representing Austin).

Chicago Peace Fellow Maria Pike presenting her asset map

Then CPF Pha’Tal Perkins and CPF Edwin Martinez made closing reflections on what they hope to accomplish as they put their new learnings into practice. Lastly, Jamika Smith unveiled a project she wanted to gift to the 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows. 

“Because I gained so much from the overall experience, my Spirit moved me to return the favor by sharing with my cohort and the Goldin Institute leadership a little piece of my heart. I took a skilled craft that has been around since the Middle Ages and I metaphorized it — did I just make up a word? My cohort and I took an old worn-out chair and told our story, addressing the question “If violence disappeared tomorrow, what would be possible in my neighborhood?” One by one, we discussed the challenges, barriers, and limited beliefs our neighborhoods are struggling with today. Next, I asked them to share with me, if violence was rid from our communities tomorrow how would you feel? And what image and color will represent that feeling for you? After gathering all 18 responses I incorporated them into a design that represented the voices of our 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows. Our Peace Chair will always be an attribute of our journey together. My goal is to take our peace chair on tour in 2023, giving each Peace Fellow the opportunity to house it for a period of time in their organization, as a reminder that we are all connected and still have work to do…Together!” – Jamika Smith (2022 Chicago Peace Fellow).

All Fellows contributed messages to the Peace Chair.

Upon graduation, the 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows now join the Goldin Institute’s Global Alumni Network which consists of over 150 Fellows from over 40 countries around the world. 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows Jacqueline Williams says “I plan to continue to stay in touch with as many people as possible. I have really enjoyed talking and connecting with everyone!