Seeds of Peace Groups Help Students Learn to Ease Racism, Promote Understanding
Published on 5/12/16
District News Extra-Curricular Corcoran High School Henninger High School ITC Nottingham High School PSLA @ Fowler
In partnership with InterFaith Works, students at SCSD high schools have been coming up with strategies to combat racism, sexism, bullying, poverty and other issues facing their school communities and the city as a whole.
Originally formed as a larger, international organization, Seeds of Peace aims to create a new generation of global leaders who could serve as examples of peace in communities divided by conflict. Each year, students from across the country and around the world are invited to attend a summer camp in Maine, where they learn skills and relationships needed to bring about greater social change.
Through the school Seeds of Peace clubs, students regularly meet in an effort to spread these skills among their peers.
Eugene Butler, a 2012 ITC graduate, is currently a senior at Syracuse University. While the Seeds program did not exist at ITC when he was a student, he got involved with the program in his sophomore year of college. “It changed my life in so many ways,” Eugene explained. “It’s made me more aware of myself and how I handle situations. You have to practice what you preach. Learning how to be there for others, really listen and hear people out, and always trying to put my best foot forward has really helped shape me. That’s what I gained from Seeds.”
After attending the annual Seeds of Peace camp in Maine for two years running, Eugene connected with ITC Student Assistance Coordinator Cindy Squillace, who was trying to build a Seeds group at his Alma Mater. Now, he regularly attends the ITC Seeds meetings in an effort to encourage current students to become involved with the program.
“The camp itself and the environment is such an inviting one,” he said. “It’s so different from the inner city environment. I know how rough it is living in the city—I want other kids to go there and see how life can be different and how people can be there for you. I hope they can open up their minds to see that there’s more to Syracuse than what they are experiencing. There is so much more that they can do and there’s so much more that they’re capable of.”
Attend a Seeds meeting in the SCSD, and you will find students discussing attainable ways they can create positive change in their school buildings. At Nottingham, students worked to plan a larger school dialogue to talk about racism and acceptance, as well as to encourage students to branch out into new social circles.
“The point of dialogue is to talk about different issues facing our community,” Nottingham junior Olivia Vought explained. “They’re an educational tool to help us learn about other people and their experiences.”
Olivia has been to Seeds camp twice since joining the club in her freshman year and said the experience has prompted her to become an activist at her school.
“It was a leadership experience that taught me to better myself as a person and make connections with other people,” she said. “I’ve fallen in love with the Seeds of Peace group. It’s so great that my peers are so interested in making a change in themselves and their communities!”
Nottingham Special Education teacher and Seeds adviser Kaitlyn Mullahey said the students are really working to break down social barriers and create a more collaborative, compassionate, culturally responsive community.
“We try to apply these concepts to be as relative to our school as possible,” she said. “Every other Thursday, we hold school-wide dialogues on an issue we see as important to improving the culture of Nottingham—anything from gender roles to dating preferences as it relates to race to how cultural divides plays out in the lunch room or on sports teams. We close our every dialogue with an action plan—what we can do to help within our community.”
At Henninger, students said they value these dialogues in part because it helps them get to know each other better.
“I like Seeds of Peace and the discussions we have, because you get to speak your mind and hear about how other people feel about things,” Henninger junior Zahabu Kamanda said.
Classmate Didier Shabani added, “It’s a safe place where I feel free to express myself.”
At ITC, even in the program’s first year, students are discussing issues like systemic racism and things they can do to chip away at it within their school and community.
“We have had some good discussions here,” sophomore Manney Williams recalled. “One was about the Baltimore riots. It opened our eyes about how often in the media, the violence is shown, but the peaceful parts aren’t. I hope that Seeds lets us change the world, one day at a time.”
Corcoran sophomore Trang Nguyen joined Seeds after a friend at ITC told her about it. She attended the summer camp for two weeks last summer and says that now, her goal is to spread some of the peace around her school.
“I was shy before camp, but it opened me up and helped me mingle with people from different cultures,” she explained. “We had dialogues and talked about controversial topics. You learn more about peoples’ backgrounds and how to accept different ideas. My goal is to help spread this kind of peace at our school. We’re creating cultural events, which are slowly starting to make a difference. There is a lot of culture here in Syracuse, and people are afraid to intermingle. Things like this help people open their minds.”
At PSLA at Fowler, the focus is encouraging students to be open minded to each other, both culturally and between Fowler students and PSLA students.
“I like that we talk about controversial things and have deep conversations,” senior Abshiro Abubeker said. “We all have different perspectives and we should listen to each other and not judge.”
Regardless of which school students attend, their ultimate goal is the same: to gain a deeper understanding of social justice issues and to find ways to work together to encourage understanding and peace among their school communities and beyond. Thank you to InterFaith Works for leading these important discussions, and to all students and staff who take part!