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"Recentering" Takes a New Approach


A cutting-edge experiment in stopping violence

CHICAGO, IL (April 6, 2011) — Each year, Prof. Mary Adams Trujillo’s class in conflict transformation plans and produces a conference for local peacemakers. This year, on April 30, they will take what they have learned and try something even more experimental than usual.

Rather than holding a single event, the class of 25 will divide up and convene multiple “organizations and citizens committed to stopping violence” at numerous public sites around the city of Chicago. All the groups will be unified around the conference theme, “Arms around Chicago,” and connect via the internet-based voice and video service Skype.

Each group will include several class members and their partner community organizers, who will facilitate the simultaneous meetings, all open to the public. They will use a workshop design tool known as “Open Space Technology” which Trujillo reports “basically allows the participants to drive the agenda, rather than our coming in with a preset program.” Participants will identify a theme to discuss and agree to take responsibility for it in some way. The process “enables us to facilitate conversations that address the unique concerns of a specific community.” The groups will connect with each other at the end of the sessions, sharing via Skype as they close out the process. Using this model will allow each group to set their own goals, but also to be part of a larger set of groups — the virtual “arms around Chicago.”

Trujillo is aware of the risks as well as the promise of this unique, real-time format.  “I don’t yet know enough about the technology to fully describe how it will happen. I only know what I want. Our hope is that everyone [at the meetings] will participate." Additionally, she says, “students will publicize through Facebook and Twitter, including live transmission from the events. Because many people have phones with video capacities, we are exploring how we can upload to YouTube,” as well. She is hoping to build bridges, as “the internet and other forms of technology enable us to see and experience connection between our different communities.”

Her students “indicated the areas of the city in which they wanted to work or had previous contacts. They then have researched these particular areas — demographics, crime/violence rates, vital statistics, etc., in order to identify the character and issues of the community." The communities they have focused on are:

  • Albany Park
  • Bronzeville
  • Boys Town
  • Evanston
  • Humboldt Park
  • East / West Garfield
  • Lawndale
  • Ravenswood

Trujillo says, “Students will be involved in all areas of planning, including fundraising, public relations, community outreach, conference logistics, etc.”

The foundational text for the Conflict Transformation class is John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace. Lederach, a respected peacemaker and professor at Notre Dame, has worked in 25 countries on five continents to build peace and conciliation in violence- and war-torn regions, through dialogue and sustained conversations.

Trujillo’s class is using Lederach’s model for the conference, but with a twist. “Although his model was developed in the context of international conflicts, we are testing its applicability to local situations of protracted violence.  In my opinion, the process of recruiting 11- and 12-year-olds with the promise of guns, drugs, and a sense of belonging to a 'family' (gang) is the same dynamic used for recruiting child soldiers. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be present in anyone who must live in violent environments. Broken relationships are broken relationships wherever they occur.”

The class integrates faith, spirituality, and social justice in the process of transforming conflict and seeking to end violence. Trujillo says, “Lederach gives us a model for peacemaking, but more importantly he gives us permission to hope. We are encouraged to see God in the creative complexity of His creation.”

Next Steps

See event details for Recentering 2011

Learn more about North Park's Conflict Transformation program