Education & Engagement

Director’s Reflection

by Adria Scharf

Two antidotes to despair are education & engagement.

This is an important time. What happens this year—how the public responds to the Trump administration’s efforts and what the resistance evolves into—will shape the future of this country. The state of Virginia is a bellwether state nationally. What happens here really matters.

Like many other groups, after the election, we took a couple of months to discern “what now?” We asked: “How can the Peace Center strengthen efforts to build a more peaceful, just, and inclusive community and country? How can RPEC best meet this ‘moment’? How can we do so while maintaining existing longstanding commitments, with small staff?”

The Peace Center board of directors explored these questions at their retreat in February and at a follow up board meeting in March. I’m excited to share our current, and still evolving, vision.

The Peace Center has set two primary goals for the year and has committed to build its staffing and overall capacity in order to achieve those goals. We seek to:

1) Dramatically scale up our youth program in two ways, and
2) Better support activism for peace and justice locally.

With respect to scaling up youth programming, we are launching a new phase of impact. With our pilot Youth Peace Program at Albert Hill Middle School this year, we’ve trained a group of 8th graders to be Youth Peace Leaders who are leading programs with most of the 7th grade. We are already receiving inquiries from other schools asking us to replicate similar school-based yearlong programs at other schools. In addition, we are planning to soon announce a special youth program in a targeted community deeply affected by violence, which we expect to launch later this year. Through these place-based programs, we are preparing groups of teenagers to be leaders for peace in their own schools or their own neighborhoods, and giving them opportunities to be leaders who create positive ripple effects in these spaces.

Simultaneously, through our regional Richmond Youth Peace Project, a collaboration with Drums No Guns, we continue to unite together students from a wide variety of backgrounds to learn from one another and collaborate, while educating them about critical community issues. Our youth program therefore is a vehicle both for students to bring about positive change within their own schools & communities and it also serves as a bridge that connects diverse youth from across the socioeconomic, racial, cultural and city-county divides of our region. We know that this work with the next generation is laying the groundwork for a better future.

We have set a goal of seeking funding to hire a youth program director to coordinate our increased work.

To support activism for peace and justice, we will be launching a new advocacy program area within RPEC this year. At first this effort will be entirely volunteer run, and will continue programs we have already begun. Our ambitions however are to increase staffing to expand this area of our mission.

Later this spring, our board will launch an emergency campaign to raise funding to hire a part-time advocacy and activism program coordinator.

Because of our efforts, change efforts will be better connected, analyses will be deepened, and activists will be better equipped with collaborative skills that will help sustain them and promote alliances.

Our goal is to strengthen peace and justice locally in the “Trump” era. We will continue to center our deep commitment to supporting racial justice in the Richmond region under this new advocacy umbrella.

As noted, the board will launch a fundraising effort for a part-time advocacy staff person to support this work. Contact rpec@rpec.org for more information. And please make a donation on our website to get us started! (Click the donate button at rpec.org; note in memo “Advocacy.”)

Like you, we continue to believe that the forces of love and justice are stronger than the forces of division. We know that united we will build a better tomorrow.