On Friday May fourth, Brattleboro Union High School in Brattleboro Vermont, USA, held its annual Day of Diversity. Since 2008, Day of Diversity has been dedicated to engaging young adults in appreciating the diversity in their communities, exploring the challenges they face and developing tools to respond to those challenges. John Ungerleider, chairman of the Peace and Justice Leadership at School of International Training in Vermont MA and director of Youth Peacebuilding and Leadership Programs at World Learning, was invited to facilitate the day. He invited Rami Efal, Zen Peacemakers International executive director; Tim Kipp, Vermont activist and long-time educator; and Dora Urunaji, peace-builder, former parliament member in Rwanda and co-organizer of the 2014 Zen Peacemakers Rwanda Bearing Witness retreat, to explore with the youth the notion of non-violence.
The four presenters engaged sixty students in the school’s auditorium on questions like “what labels do you use for others?”, “what is violence?”, “what is the relationship of identity and violence?” and “what is non-violence?”.
On the healing of her home country, Dora spoke about the importance of a unifying identity for Rwandans, instead of the divisive labeling of Hutus and Tutsis, and invited the students to find a single, higher identity that would include all the divided groups in their school.
Following Dora, Rami spoke about non-violence in the context of the Zen Peacemakers’ Not Knowing, the first of the Three Tenets, and how a simple moment of assuming to know anything about another can distance us from connection and be the seed of violent speech or action. Last, Tim Kipp encouraged the young adults to continue being politically engaged in direct non-violent actions and applauded their involvement and social awareness.
After the event, Rami reflected, “A student dropped a large cup of pink smoothie on the floor, right between the first row of chairs and the stage were we stood. Looking at the splash, I recalled the ‘Sarajevo Roses’ I saw during the Bearing Witness retreat there in 2017 – the splattered-concrete red-painted holes, scattered on the paved streets of the Balkan capital where in 1994-1996 Bosniak-Serb mortars hit and felled hundreds of residents. Many of those were youth. The youth that were present before me in that classroom were probably no different than those in the Balkans, or in Rwanda, or in Palestine or Israel which is where I grew up. Like I was, they are probably passionate, opinionated, have crushes on classmates and are concerned with their future. And if so, though we have a tendency to violence, to impose knowing and violence on one another, this is just as universal as our capacity to not-know and listen.”
Read more about the Brattleboro Day of Diversity: