Transitions for our Director of Community Learning and Collaboration

This may not be my final contribution to the Goldin Instiute’s newsletter, but to be sure it is the most difficult to write.

After six years, I am leaving Goldin Institute to work with the Skoll Foundation in northern California. In my new role as a Principal of the foundation, I will help oversee grantmaking to social entrepreneurs throughout the world, as well as support collaborative funding efforts to better reach communities most in need.

Since the outset of my tenure at the organization, I have been blessed to not only gain a brother in arms and lifetime friend in Travis Rejman, but also get to know and work alongside some of the most dynamic, seemingly tireless people I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. With no small degree of sadness, I will miss them profoundly.

The vision shared by Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman is one that captured my imagination with its raw clarity as well as its polished authenticity when I first learned of the Goldin Institute, and it still does. From my view at Skoll, I am committed to supporting that vision and the work of my colleagues to the fullest of my capacity.

To the larger community it has borne, I do hope I will still be seen as treated as a member, and ally. Though I will not formally be a part of the Goldin Institute’s working team I remain very active in supporting the individual efforts of its fellows and global partners, including the monthly roundtable dialogues.

2019 Chicago Peace Fellows Report

For nearly two decades, the Chicago-based Goldin Institute has worked to build the capacity and amplify the voices of grassroots organizers in communities contending with the most challenging circumstances on Earth. In late 2018, the Goldin Institute was asked to design a course for grassroots organizers by the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a coalition of 40 Chicago-based foundations who are aligning their investments to support proven and promising approaches to reducing gun violence. The Goldin Institute relied on its extensive global experience to create the Chicago Peace Fellows.

The Peace Fellows is a curriculum and fellowship designed to support individual organizers who are prior grantees of the Partnership’s Chicago Fund and are working to stop violence and create opportunities for their neighbors to collaborate in promoting more peaceful communities across the city. The inaugural class of 18 Peace Fellows graduated in November 2019 after more than six months of collaborative learning and joint projects.

The Goldin Institute designed the Peace Fellows course in collaboration with previous Chicago Fund grantees and input from a wide range of civic stakeholders. Based on the advice they received, staff adapted GATHER, the Goldin Institute’s tablet-based curriculum that teaches a series of core social change concepts and tools for authentic community engagement for grassroots leaders across the globe, to fit the newly formed group of local neighborhood changemakers, enhancing the online course with in-person workshops and meetings with a wide range of civic leaders in Chicago.

The 18 Chicago Peace Fellows were selected from a pool of over 50 applicants who all live and work in community areas on the city’s South and West sides that are disproportionately affected by crime and violence. Each Peace Fellow received a stipend and an iPad pre-loaded with the GATHER software and curriculum. Connecting Chicago leaders through GATHER allowed Fellows to explore key concepts around social change and leadership development digitally while they continued playing key roles in their community organizations as they completed the course.

On March 8, 2019, the Peace Fellows convened at DePaul University for the launch of the program where they discussed their leadership styles and got to know their peers. Over the following several weeks, the Chicago Peace Fellows developed deep bonds and determined together the principles and practices that would enable them to learn and work together as a community of practice.

The experience continued through the exercises in the curriculum and a wide variety of in-person workshops highlighting key violence prevention skills and introductions to other organizations doing important violence prevention work in the city. Fellows also had access to elected officials and institutional leaders in Chicago and beyond.

Throughout the program, Fellows participated in over 50 events and workshops hosted by partner organizations, including:

These face-to-face meetings augmented the curriculum Fellows explored together using the GATHER digital platform specifically designed to enact the course’s pedagogy of learning as a community. Rather than a traditional teacher-to-student course, GATHER is made up of highly interactive chapters that guided Fellows through key concepts for social change. It then provided them space for shared reflection after they put those techniques into practice in low-stakes exercises with peers and assignments.

Towards the end of the curriculum, the Fellows planned and implemented community projects within their neighborhoods. The Goldin Institute assembled $30,000 in special funds for the Peace Fellows to execute these collaborative projects between July and September with the goal of involving community residents, creating peace, and promoting healing.

The planning process for the summer projects was likewise collaborative, beginning with the establishment of principles based on the key concepts explored during the GATHER course. The Fellows generated a wide variety of ideas together which they took back to their communities and organizations, and went through several more levels of review before they proceeded on the allocation of the funds. Moving in concert, the Fellows settled on eight summer projects, deciding how to fund each project with the $30,000 pool, acting as grant-maker as well as grantee.

Innovative, enlightening, powerful, sometimes spiritual and deeply emotional, the summer projects included an outdoor youth retreat that brought young people from different neighborhoods to an activity camp in the Wisconsin forest, a family and youth peace day in Bronzeville, a healing fair for senior citizens with yoga, tai chi and peace circles, and Passport to Peace events in parks and public spaces on the city’s South and West sides.

The 18 Peace Fellows graduated from the course on November 14, 2019, in a ceremony that they designed collaboratively, of course. Approximately 100 family, friends and supporters came out to celebrate the Fellows’ accomplishments.

The Goldin Institute’s Founders, Board Chair Diane Goldin and Executive Director Travis Rejman, welcomed the Peace Fellows to the Institute’s global community of practice, adding that the program brought home to Chicago everything they had learned around the globe.

“Over the past 17 years working in over 50 countries, we’ve seen that real and sustainable change is always rooted in the power of communities building on their assets and inviting voices people on the front lines to make decisions,” Travis said.

The Fellows took the opportunity to share “What they did,” “What they learned,” and “Where they are going.” In groups of 4-5, the Fellows relayed the most meaningful moments of their time together and inspired all those in attendance with their passion as well as the kinship and respect they had come to feel for each other.

We all come from different points in life and we got to hear from people using resources and what they know in their communities to make a difference,” said Peace Fellow Frank Latin, founder and executive director of the Westside Media Project. “We all come together regardless of our backgrounds and what we’ve been through to try and make a better place to live.”

A 12’ long graphic timeline hung in the graduation space displaying all the events the Fellows had attended and all the workshops in which they had participated, illustrated with pictures from their highly successful summer projects.

Upon their graduation, the Peace Fellows officially joined a growing network of Global Gather Fellows currently representing 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America. They have access to an international network for mutual support, ongoing learning and global cooperation.

Systemic and adaptive challenges facing our communities will require new approaches to see and change the system by building on our local assets and unlocking the potential of emerging leaders. To address these dynamic issues, the GATHER Global Alumni network meets online each month for workshops and discussions on themes selected by the alumni themselves. Recent workshops have included trainings on metrics and evaluation; children and armed conflict; and preventing violent extremism.

The overwhelmingly positive response from the inaugural cohort of Chicago Peace Fellows has inspired the Goldin Institute and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities to expand the Peace Fellows program in 2020.

The Goldin Institute thanks the Conant Family Foundation, the Polk Bros. FoundationChase Bank, the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communitiesand our generous network of champions for community-driven social change for their support of the Chicago Peace Fellows.

The Goldin Institute extends its deepest appreciation to the following organizations and groups who provided critical assistance, hosted workshops, collaborated on peace building projects and shared insights to make the Chicago Peace Fellows an inspiring and productive experience:

2016 Ma’at, Academy for Global Citizenship, Alliance for the South East, Agape Werks, Asset Based Community Development Institute, Atonement Church, Automotive Mentoring Group, Be Different, Black Star Project, Blocks Together, Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Bright Star Church, Brothers Standing Together, Chase Bank, Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration Collaborative, Chicago Cares, Chicago Community Trust, Chicago CRED, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Foundation for Women, Chicago Knights Robotics Team, Chicago Park District, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Public Libraries, Chicago Women’s AIDS Project, Chicago Youth Programs, CIGNA, City Bureau, City Club of Chicago, City Colleges of Chicago, Chopin Theater, Churchview Senior Living Facility, Community Builder, Conant Family Foundation, Crossroads Fund, Cure Violence, CNI Group, Crown Family Foundation, CWAP, Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices, David Lynch Foundation, DePaul University, DePaul University Egan Office of Urban Education, DePaul University Steans Center, GodTess, Graphics 2020, Grow Greater Englewood, Healing Home, Heartland Alliance READI Program , I Am My Brothers Keeper, Imago Dei, Imani Community Development Corporation, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Kids Off the Block, King of Glory Tabernacle, Ladies of Virtue , MacArthur Foundation, Maple Park Community Association, Maple Park UMC, Marion Nzinga Stamps Youth Center, McCormick Foundation, Metropolitan Family Services, Metropolitan Peace Academy, Metropolitan Planning Council, Mikva Challenge, Missionary Baptist Church , M.I.T. School of Urban Planning, NeighborSpace, New America Foundation, New Eclipse Community Alliance, Northeastern Illinois University, OperaMatic, Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, Phoenix Life Solutions, PNC Bank, Polk Bros. Foundation, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, Project, R.A.G.E., Rebuild Foundation, Resurrection Project, Restore Justice Illinois, Stony Island Arts Bank, Studio Gang, Taylor Investment Partners, Teamwork Englewood, Technology for Social Good Lab, Ten Point Coalition, Indianapolis, Telpochcalli Community Education Project, ThinkInc., TREAD, UCLA Department of Black Studies, United Way, University of Chicago Crime Lab, University of Chicago Law School, University of Chicago Trauma Center, University of Illinois, Urban Labs, US Bank, Veterans for Peace, Westside Justice Center, Westside Media Project, Woods Fund, Young Chicago Authors.

Special acknowledgment to those partners, mentors, consultants, friends and colleagues whose ideas and expertise made the Chicago Peace Fellows possible:

Marshan Allen, Michael Aguhar, Daniel Ash, Shannon Barr, Abraham Bendheim, Chris Bennett, Deborah Bennett, Esteban Bey, Mecca Bey, Gia Biagi, Garenne Bigby, Quincy Bingham, Eddie Bocanegra, Vaughn Bryant, Mary Scott-Boria, Bliss Brown, Walter Burnett, Asiaha Butler, Elena Calzada, Jacob Campbell, Annmarie Chereso, Linc Cohen, Daniel Cooper, Kevin Coval , Tara Dabney, Vanessa Dereef, Katherine Elmer-Dewitt, Stacy Erenberg, Jessa Dickinson, Alejandro DiPrizio, David Doig, Anders Donskov, Lisa Dush, Leif Elsmo, Kahil El’Zabar, Sheena Erete, Derrick Faulkner, Gary Feinerman, Ghian Foreman, Christian Forman, Craig Futterman , Theaster Gates, Joseph Genslak, Teny Gross, Janet Hanley, Troy Harden, John Hardy, Nekenya Hardy, Charles Harrison, Damion Heron, Jeffrey Hodges, Khari Humphries, Shruti Jayaraman, Frankie Johnson, Tonika Johnson, Terence Keel, Jody Kretzmann, Teddy Krolik, Rebekah Levin, Keith Lewis, Eric Ljung, Dan Lurie, Kristen Mack, Mallory McClaire, Cecil McDonald, Ceasar McDowell, Delano McIntyre, Tawa Mitchell, Michelle Morales, Sheelah Muhammad, Amalia Nieto-Gomez, Mark Orthman, Ashley Perkins, Jobi Peterson, Christy Prahl, Julian Posada, Tony Raggs, Leslie Ramyk, Kim Redding, Robert Rejman, Raymond Richard, Art Richardson, Jose Rico, Robin Robinson, Jane Saks, Anton Seals, Kimberly Smith, Alexis Smyser, Rahmaan Statik, Justice Stamps, Arny Steiber, Ole Qvist-Sorensen, Arloa Sutter, Bruce Taylor, Tess Torziata, Susana Vasquez, Edgar Villanueva, Cortez Watson, Alaka Wali, Artimmeo Williamson, John Wolf, Lora York, John Zeigler.

Celebrating the Achievements of 2019

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! 

Celebrating the Graduation of the Chicago Peace Fellows

By Ethan Michaeli, Senior Advisor for Communications

For Velvian Boswell, being a Chicago Peace Fellow transformed the way she saw her own neighborhood. Speaking to a room packed with family, friends and supporters at the Peace Fellows’ graduation, Boswell, who works as a recovery specialist for the Chicago Women's AIDS Project, recalled the component of the curriculum in which they were asked to create asset maps of their own neighborhoods. In the beginning, Boswell didn’t think there were many assets in her community, Englewood on the city’s South Side.

“At first, I thought of all the liquor stores,” Velvian said, “but I had to take a step back.”

“We have a lot of history, a lot of people, and a lot of resources in Englewood. That is what I learned as a Chicago Peace Fellow.” -- Velvian Boswell

Boswell was just one of 18 grassroots organizers who graduated from the first cohort of Chicago Peace Fellows on November 14 at an event space on Division Street in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Each of the Fellows lives and works in neighborhoods dealing with disproportionate rates of crime and violence, and they celebrated months of work sharing their experiences, learning new techniques, and expanding their networks as well as acquiring new contacts and resources.

The Fellows will join the Goldin Institute’s international cohort of grassroots organizers around the world who are developing innovative strategies for empowering their neighbors and fostering healing in areas torn by war and natural disaster. The Peace Fellows were trained through GATHER, which is both a software and a curriculum designed by the Goldin Institute to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.

“This is one of those moments when life comes full circle,” said Travis Rejman, the Goldin Institute’s executive director, introducing the Peace Fellows at the event.

Travis described the Goldin Institute’s origins in 2002 during a week-long conclave in Chicago that brought together an unprecedented roster of grassroots organizers from around the globe. Participants studied the city’s rich history of community organizing, and shared the wisdom they had acquired in their work in different cities before collectively conceiving of an organization that could help grassroots organizations foster conversations, build their networks, and tap new resources.

“We’ve been pursuing those principles and putting them into practice over the last 17 years in over 50 countries. The key to our mission to create spaces for grassroots leaders to learn and work together so they can connect around issues they care about and collaborate across borders.” -- Travis Rejman

The Peace Fellows program, Travis explained, was built on the lessons learned through these years of work and especially through the international GATHER Fellows. The asset map Velvian described is just one of the exercises designed to “understand power, privilege and race, and the intersectionality of how those forces intersect with our peace building.” All of the components of the curriculum were calibrated to “center voices of those who are often excluded, knowing that those who have the most at stake and the most wisdom.”

Overall, the Peace Fellows participated in 50 workshops, trainings and meetings with civic leaders, at least one event every two weeks and many weeks with multiple events. In addition to the shared learning sessions, the Peace Fellows collaboratively planned 8 projects in the summer and beyond with special funding from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

“Over the past 17 years working in over 50 countries, we’ve seen that real and sustainable change is always rooted in the power of communities building on their assets and inviting voices people on the front lines to make decisions,” Travis said.

Goldin Institute Program Coordinator Burrell Poe praised the Peace Fellows for their dedication and assiduity, and welcomed them into the “community of practice” with the GATHER Fellows. An organizer himself, Burrell said the mutual support was essential for effecting change.

“It’s really about how do people who do the work stick together, how do they support each other,” Burrell said.

“At the end of the day, if I’m someone who’s working hard in Englewood, it’s nice for me to know someone who’s working hard in Austin. That connection is powerful because we’re doing the work in our own communities and sometimes we can feel so alone and being together a community of practice is so important.”

Peace Fellow Frank Latin, the founder and executive director of Westside Media Project, recalled one workshop at the Institute for Non Violence Chicago, where they spoke with case workers and others engaging with young men in the community at high risk for being both perpetrators and victims of violence. Many of the case workers have personal experience with street violence, and Frank remembered the conversation as robust and incisive, piercing the myths that cloud the picture of what is actually happening in neighborhood like Austin on the city’s West Side.

“I got to hear directly from people who look, quite frankly, just like me,” Frank said.

“We got to hear directly from people working on the front lines, some of the challenges that don’t make the news, like why are people carrying guns. Not everyone who is carrying a gun in Austin is a predator. A lot of people were trying to protect themselves, but once you get arrested, you’re going to same jail cell.” -- Frank Latin

Frank continued that it as a resident of another neighborhood handling high levels of violence, he knew already that it was a “no brainer necessity” to work with those whose past includes criminality. But often, the prevailing narrative in mainstream media, the academy, and even among social services are wary of direct contact with those most likely to be involved in violence.

“We all come from different points in life and we got to hear from people using resources and what they know in their communities to make a difference,” Frank said.

“We all come together regardless of our backgrounds and what we’ve been through to try and make a better place to live.”

Peace Fellow Dawn Hodges, executive director of Imani Community Development Corporation in South Chicago, talked about the collective planning process for deciding how to fund the summer projects. It took several rounds of very active conversations and lots of sticky notes as well as a few digital tools, but in the end, the Peace Fellows had decided on eight innovative initiatives, each of which involved multiple Fellows.

The summer projects included “Passport to Peace” events, community fairs with peace circles, tai chi classes and other services for community residents, the “Youth Exchange,” an overnight retreat at a Wisconsin camp site for young people from different neighborhoods, and a retreat for the Peace Fellows themselves, a rare opportunity to reflect and discuss.

“The powerful part was those who got funded less but needed more and those who got more we all ended up sharing, so all the projects that were going to be funded got funded,” Dawn explained.

Maria Velazquez, executive director of Telpochcalli Community Education Project in the Little Village neighborhood, admitted that she was not particularly tech-savvy when she received the iPad preloaded with the GATHER software. But she quickly got help both from the Goldin Institute staff and from other Peace Fellows.

That sense of camaraderie was key to the GATHER curriculum’s success for Maria. After 17 years at Telpochcalli, a mostly volunteer organization, she focused on learning new techniques that will make collective decision more effective. But overall, Maria was thrilled to find a new cohort of peers with whom she can share her experiences and challenges.

“Often, we feel very isolated like we are the only ones doing it. Now I have a team of people I can turn to.” -- Maria Velazquez

The event continued with comments from other Fellows as well as supporters including Conant Family Foundation Executive Director Leslie Ramyk, who collaborated closely with Travis to fund the first class of Peace Fellows and pledged to do what she could to make sure there would be additional cohorts.

"Thank you for being the inaugural Chicago Peace Fellows. I’m so excited with everything that happened this year. The least I can do – and what I must do – is raise the money so we can do this again.” -- Leslie Ramyk, Conant Family Foundation

The graduation celebration closed with a rousing – if slightly off-key – group sing-along led by Peace Fellow Gloria Smith, who wrote new lyrics under the title “We are building up a new world” to the tune of the traditional song “Jacob’s Ladder.”

The Goldin Institute thanks the Conant Family Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, Chase Bank, the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities and our generous network of champions for community driven social change for supporting the Chicago Peace Fellows

Download the Graduation Booklet to Learn More

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Peace Fellows Advisors Review Progress

With the first cohort of the Chicago Peace Fellows finishing their summer projects and nearing the end of their curriculum, the Goldin Institute convened a dinner meeting of prominent advisers on Thursday, September 12, to discuss strategies for sharing the Fellows’ accomplishments and wisdom during their upcoming graduation.

Advisors Dinner 3

Held at the Erie Café in the city’s River North neighborhood, this was the third advisors dinner, and was attended by Goldin Institute Founder and Board Chair Diane Goldin, GATHER alumnus Raymond Richard, founder of Brothers Standing Together, a Chicago-based non-profit organization; Leslie Ramyk, Executive Director, Conant Family Foundation; Teresa Zeigler and John Zeigler, director of DePaul University’s Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships; Mimi Frankel, a member of the Frankel Family Foundation’s Board of Directors and the Goldin Institute’s Board of Advisors; Lisa Dush, a DePaul University professor who is conducting an academic evaluation of GATHER; Justice Stamps, who runs the Marion Nzinga Stamps Youth Center mentoring program on the Near North Side; José Rico, a Director of  Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation for Greater Chicago; Rob Rejman, vice president, Ascent; as well as Goldin Institute staff led by Executive Director Travis Rejman, along with Oz Ozburn, Jimmie Briggs and Burrell Poe.

The Goldin Institute team began with an update on the many workshops and events that the Peace Fellows have participated in, including the strategy session with the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, the exploration of the role of urban planning and design in building safe communities with Studio Gang and the Rebuild Foundation and the meeting with Alderman Burnett on how grassroots leaders can more effectively collaborate with city-wide initaitives.

All the participants framed the Peace Fellows’ work in the context of the continuing unacceptable levels of violence in some Chicago neighborhoods. Jose Rico spoke about the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformational Initiative as well as about regular meetings in the office of Chicago’s newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and how the Fellows’ work could inform their discussions.

The Conant Foundation’s Leslie Ramyk said Chicago’s philanthropic leaders were mobilizing beyond their daily duties to respond to the crisis, including collaborating to publish a recent Op Ed, Enough With Hate, in Crain’s Chicago Business. Many family foundations are responding to the violence, moreover, by seeking out and listening to community leaders, using their leverage, power and privilege to try and make the social standard more equitable.

[quote]“This is outside of our job descriptions. We do it because of the necessity of this crisis.” -- Leslie Ramyk, Conant Family Foundation[/quote]

Mimi Frankel of the Frankel Family Foundation observed, “We are dealing with a totally different environment than we have had before.”

Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman talked about the importance of building a movement of connected peace-makers and quoted the maxim, "Great leaders don't inspire movements, movements inspire great leaders."

Senior Adviser Jimmie Briggs suggested building interest from journalists in the Peace Fellows’ efforts through various efforts, including a panel discussion. As a New York-based writer with roots in the Midwest, Jimmie was enthusiastic about the potential for the Fellows’ stories to reach a broad audience.

[quote]“Visiting this city can feel like you're in different countries as you go from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some areas are safe and some aren't and you can live in this city and have fully different experiences.” -- Jimmie Briggs[/quote]

He added that a narrative encompassing all the Peace Fellows’ diverse experiences would be inspirational. "If there is no narrative out there, it didn't happen," Jimmie cautioned.

Program Coordinator Burrell Poe said that when he was interviewing Fellows, one of their most common requests was to meet others doing similar work. Now that the program is up and running, he was proud to have facilitated the Fellows’ early contacts and that they are now working closely together.

“They are really loving it,” Burrell said of the Fellows’ collaborations.

DePaul University’s Lisa Dush, who is conducting an evaluation of the fellowship, said her challenge was to adapt available metrics to accurately measure results. While data is available to indicate the Fellows’ progress through the curriculum, she wants to make sure she documents the true picture of their experience.

John Zeigler discussed changing the prevailing narrative of the city’s communities, and change the focus of philanthropies, who tend to make grants to programs which generate quick results, rather than long-term investments.

John asked, “How do you challenge or disrupt that narrative?”

[quote]“Chicago is a city of neighborhoods but it is also a city priding themselves on growing organizers.” -- John Ziegler, DePaul University[/quote]

In that vein, John was pleased the curriculum had fostered meaningful and productive connections among the Peace Fellows.

“The Chicago Peace Fellows build trust and social capital with each other,” he said. “Social capital is a process, and the Chicago Peace Fellows invests in the process.”

Raymond Richard of Brothers Standing Together spoke about the responsibilities of community leaders, including non-profit executives, to work in concert and demonstrate dignity to younger generations. Philanthropies will have to be involved through determined strategies, he continued.

“These kids are fighting the same fight and they don't even know it,” Brother Ray said.

[quote]“If we're going to break down a barrier, we have to lead by example. We don't want the children to know how much we know. We want them to know how much we care." -- Raymond Richard, Brothers Standing Together[/quote]

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Peace Fellows Tour University of Chicago Crime Lab

On Friday, August 30, the Chicago Peace Fellows toured the University of Chicago Urban Labs to learn more about the work of the Crime Lab, hosted by Kimberly Smith, associate director of criminal justice initiatives.


Kim talked about how the Crime Lab started with the idea to leverage the intellectual capital of the University of Chicago to address violence in Chicago. In 2007, the University was reeling from the shooting death on their campus of an international student during an attempted robbery. Their solution was to ask what the University’s faculty members were good at and how could they use their talents to serve their surrounding community.

[quote]The University of Chicago is the home of more Nobel Prize winners than any other institution in the world, and the school is a hub for research of many kinds, scientific to historical. Could they use those techniques to encourage research on the causes and solutions to violence in the communities that surround the university?[/quote]

They began to work with community organizations to add value by providing research and evaluation support. They identified one organization that was producing tremendous results and helped them grow their programming, and they are working with several other groups across the city that are tackling issues of violence in the city to identify effective strategies.


Much of the meeting was spent fielding questions from the Chicago Peace Fellows about how the Crime Lab does its work. They asked about the Crime Lab’s work with the Chicago Police Department, particularly how the Crime Lab is working to support officers and their relationship to the community. Robert Biekman wanted to know about the Crime Lab’s analysis of the federal consent decree that is designed to change the policies and procedures of the Chicago Police Department.

Dr. Sokoni Karanja asked about accessing data on community policing programs, which began a conversation about data sharing and how the Crime Lab provides data to grassroots organizations to measure impact. Many of the Chicago Peace Fellows have been doing tremendous work in their respective communities for years and were open to utilizing the support of the University's researchers to document their efforts and learn more about what’s most effective.

The meeting was a great demonstration of how communities can work with institutions to solidify best practices and identify promising solutions to the myriad of issues that communities across Chicago face.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Goldin Institute Returns to Israel and Palestine

Mehari Reuven is an Ethiopian Jewish teacher, writer and journalist who was incarcerated as a “prisoner of Zion” in his birth country. Released after a year during which he was tortured and witnessed the murders of other prisoners, he escaped from Ethiopia and became an international advocate for his people, playing a key role in their modern-day exodus to Israel. In his new homeland, Mehari resumed his role as a teacher, but found the Israeli students disrespectful and undisciplined, and ultimately quit to write books and produce radio programs in his native Amharic. On a radio station specially created to inform new immigrants with hour-long broadcasts in Russian, Persian, Arabic and other languages, Mehari wrote and narrated an award-winning series educating and encouraging his fellow Ethiopians to participate in Israel’s democracy and resist the discrimination they faced all too often from religious and government officials.

Tsionit Fatal Kupperwasser is a career Israeli military intelligence officer whose parents were born in Baghdad, part of a large Jewish community that had thrived in Iraq for millennia but had to flee in the wake of pogroms which targeted them after Israel’s establishment in 1948. In an effort to reconnect with her family’s severed past, she wrote a novel about her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad, which was discovered by a publisher in Iraq, translated into Arabic, and published to wide acclaim in that country: Tsionit’s Facebook page today is filled with messages in Hebrew and Arabic from her fans in two nations that are technically blood enemies.

Palestinian activist Issa Amro leads Students Against Settlements, a grassroots group of volunteers who organize nonviolent protests to demand an end to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Issa is based in Hebron, a Palestinian city that has an enclave of Israeli settlers protected by hundreds of soldiers, and his activities have frequently brought him to confrontations with soldiers and settlers as well as with Palestinian authorities, who are suspicious of his non-violent tactics and relationships with international groups as well as of his independence.

[slide] [img path="images/GIIP1801.jpg"]Dr. Chaim Peri and the team at Yemin Orde are building innovative models for education and youth empowerment.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1802.jpg"]Mr. Sam Bahour in Ramallah is leading economic development in Palestine and believes job creation is peace building.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1803.jpg"]Graffiti on the separation wall leading to the checkpoint returning from Ramallah.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1804.jpg"]Paying our respects at the Kotel and the Qubbat al-Sakhrah.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1805.jpg"]Street art in Tel Aviv.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1806.jpg"]Walking to Jaffa.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1807.jpg"]Busy street in Ramallah featuring a Star and Bucks.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1808.jpg"]Dear friend and advisor Yoni Reuven keeps us up to date on the Ethiopian Jewish cCommunity.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1809.jpg"]Honored to meet with the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia, and former Chicagoan, Belyanesh Zevadia.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1810.jpg"]Graffiti on the Separation Wall outside Banksy Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem.[/img] [img path="images/GIIP1811.jpg"]Issa Amro explains how Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent strategies inspire his work in Hebron.[/img] [/slide]

These were just some of the people we met this winter when I traveled through Israel and Palestine with the Goldin Institute’s founders, Chairperson Diane Goldin and Executive Director Travis Rejman. Diane and Travis have long worked with both Palestinians and Israelis previously and wanted to check in with their old friends and colleagues, build new relationships and take a snapshot of a region which is much in the news. I was happy to help organize the trip, both in my capacity as the Goldin Institute’s Senior Advisor and because I happen to be writing my next book about Israel, to be titled “Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel.”

The title refers to the Twelve Tribes of ancient times, a querulous confederation who demanded that the Lord send them a monarch to rule over them, according to the Tanakh. But I won’t be examining modern equivalents to the ancient tribes. Rather, my book will explore how modern tribalism within Israel defines the conflict with the Palestinians, with consequences that radiate throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Israel today is divided between religious and secular, and between those Jews of European background and those whose ancestors were from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as between Jews and Muslims, both those who are citizens of Israel and those under military occupation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

I was born in the United States, but most of my family lives in Israel and I’ve traveled there many times, including several trips specifically for this book. On our journey, Diane, Travis and I traversed the country by bus and car, from hip downtown Tel Aviv to the labyrinthine market in Jerusalem’s Old City, from the mountains overlooking the Sea of Galilee to the desert around the Dead Sea. Having worked in war zones in Uganda, Colombia and the Philippines, they felt resonance in Israel and Palestine with other global hotspots, in the Israeli military checkpoint to enter the Palestinian capital of Ramallah, the high concrete wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and the young Palestinian men in black t-shirts throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers as we drove past.

The people we met with – Mehari, Tsionit, Issa and dozens of others – did indeed help us get a picture of Israel and Palestine at this particular moment in time. But more than that, they helped us understand exactly what modern tribalism is, how it is affecting every nation around the world, and, most importantly, what can be done to reach out across the gap and embrace putative enemies.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Gather Platform Previewed at Community Writing Conference

The Goldin Institute was pleased to participate in the Conference on Community Writing hosted at the University of Colorado at Boulder from October 18 - 21, 2017.

In a presentation on the theme of Building Global Networks that Support Local Action, Executive Director Travis Rejman previewed the Gather Platform alongside partners Lisa Dush and Delasha Long from DePaul University.

Dr. Lisa Dush of DePaul University opens the presentation with other examples of digital tools for community writing.

The conference overall focused on the field of “Community Writing” which is typically associated with the physical movement of students, teachers and researchers into local spaces to write, teach and learn. In our presentation, Lisa and Delasha offered a tool and framework for understanding how space, curricula and activities work together to facilitate learning. In light of this theory of space, Travis presented a new way to imagine spaces in a digital environment that incorporates the sense of being and working together in physical learning environments.

Delasha Long, a DePaul University Graduate Assistant, leads discussion on the primary design elements of service-learning projects.

[quote]This was my very first time presenting at a conference, and the attendees made me feel very welcome. I enjoyed the discussion on rethinking our current models of service-learning projects. It was exciting to see how participants said they were blown away by the presentation on the Gather Platform.[/quote]

-- Delasha Long, DePaul University

The 2017 Conference on Community Writing featured dozens of enlightening presentations on the overall theme of “Engaging Networks and Ecologies.” The conference convened community writing teachers, students, scholars and activists from across the country to address the issues facing our communities—climate change, population movements related to climate, political instability, systemic misogyny, racially motivated police killings, mass incarceration, expansion of corporate rights, resurgence of anti-immigrant rhetoric, educational injustices and gun violence—from both scholarly and practical perspectives.

Questions that were explored at the conference that were of particular interest to the Goldin Institute network included:

  • How can we apply or use ecological theories of writing as distributed, hyper-networked, circulatory, and remixed in order to strengthen our work to catalyze change in our communities? 
  • How can we work to expand our networks and ecologies to include the voices and writings of historically and chronically marginalized members of our communities?
  • What projects have you completed or envisioned that take advantage of digital technologies aiding community development?

Executive Director Travis Rejman provides overview of the Gather platform as a tool for shared learning between a community of practice.

A special thank you to our partners Lisa Dush and Delasha Long for co-presenting and to our new friends at the Conference on Community Writing for hosting such a wonderful event.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

A Call for Proper Justice

Our Executive Director, Travis Rejman recently wrote this editorial in the Huffington Post calling for the right justice to be considered in the case against Dominic Ongwen. 

Ongwen has received international attention because of his role as a high-ranking soldier in Joseph Kony's Lords Resistance Army. To be sure, his crimes against humanity are not to be debated - as a leader within the LRA, Ongwen's actions were responsible for thousands of children and their families being killed, maimed and displaced. As Travis penned in his piece:


[quote]Major General Ongwen's roles in these atrocities is not in question. Demanding justice is not in question. The meaning of justice is."[/quote]


Because Travis co-authored the Huffington story with our longtime partner in Uganda, the retired Reverend Baker Ochola, the proper context was able to be provided on the nuanced meaning of what justice would be in this case, especially to those in the communities most impacted by Ongwen's actions. To many in these communities, Ongwen first and foremost was a victim himself in being abducted into the LRA as a child soldier.

The overwhelming call, especially by religious leaders in those communities, points to the desire for Dominic Ongwen to be returned to his homeland, where he can face justice at the hands of those most informed to determine what this will look like. To them, a faraway international court like the ICC is not the proper authority to prosecute and punish a former member of their own community. Read on for the full story at this link.

Update: Since the publication of the Rejman/Ochola piece in January, the International Criminal Court ruled that it would be holding over Dominic Ongwen for full trial at the Hague. We will continue to follow this story.