At a time when news of war and mass shootings dominate our headlines, it’s more important than ever to amplify the voices of peacemakers who are quietly working for positive change. These actions are all the more inspiring when they come from the youngest members of society. Teenagers like the ones who started the United Teen Equality Center, a program that provides safe haven from gangs in downtown Lowell, show that young people don’t have to be victims of violence. They can also be powerful problem-solvers for peace.
That’s why Eric Dawson, of Dorchester, founded Peace First, a nonprofit organization that teaches a conflict-resolution curriculum in schools in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. In 2013, Peace First will award its first peace prize for children, after a rigorous process that loosely mirrors the adult Nobel Peace Prize. Five to 10 young people between the ages of 8 and 22 will receive a $50,000, two-year fellowship that can either support their activism or their education. The group will begin accepting nominations from the public in January. “We are looking for young people who have demonstrated compassion, crossing lines of difference to care for one another, and courage, taking personal risk,” Dawson said.
Most of all, Peace First is looking for youths who embody the concept of “collaborative change” by launching efforts to transform the way the rest of us live and treat one another. Peace First, which has engaged celebrities to spread the word about the prize, should be commended for highlighting the efforts of young people to improve the world they are going to inherit.