The origins of Where Peace Lives, an incredible new organization for peace in the world, lie in friendship. New Jersey natives Jeff Rudy and Jeff and Donna Clapp completed Landmark Education's curriculum for living and then assisted as Introduction Leaders together over the last decade, during which time they became fast friends. Their involvement with Landmark Education nurtured and inspired their natural desire to make a real difference in the world. Together, they wanted to create something that will actually cause a shift in the conversation for peace. They wanted to inspire and impact teens and young people, and they believed that young people have an enormous contribution to make to all of society. Finally, it was their passion for art that created the direction and focus for their work–Jeff Clapp is a fine artist and creative director in New Jersey and Donna is a professional photographer, writer and filmmaker. Back in 2002, Jeff Clapp had created a project, 'Where Art Lives' that allowed elementary students in his hometown of Red Bank to explore art by creating a mural that focused on community.
Jeff Rudy came to the project from a different route. Five days before he was scheduled to take a Landmark Education course in the Twin Towers in New York City, the towers were destroyed on September 11th. Rudy remembers feeling that we didn't need any more evidence to bomb arab countries that supported terrorism. He had conversations with another Landmark Education graduate, Patricia Steiner. On the last weekend of a Landmark Education program he saw that he could give up his point of view and make a difference. In front of 400 people, he declared himself to be a voice for world peace. Later he met Donna Clapp, who was working with Jeff Clapp to make a documentary film about ordinary people making an extraordinary difference in the world. The three came together and brainstormed. The commitment of the three friends to cause world peace had them take their idea a quantum step further, and all their passions came together in one extraordinary organization: Where Peace Lives, which was officially incorporated as a 501C3 non-profit in July 2006. In a short time, they have already started to make the kind of huge impact that they were out to cause. The graduates' goal is to explore new ways of teaching mediation and conflict resolution, create a dialogue for youth to engage in with their global neighbors, and cause a new conversation for peace. "None of us are teachers ourselves," says Jeff Clapp, who is the Program Director for Where Peace Lives, "so we enlisted the support of art teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and other experts to support us in creating a viable and intelligent art-based curriculum that could be utilized in schools or in after school programs, could support teachers in meeting curriculum standards in the arts, and be universal enough that our activities could be used just about anywhere in the world without difficulty and with continuity. Our combined training and development in transformation has made a real difference in how we operate and structure our organization. Its foundation is integrity."
Their method is utterly unique: They have taken Jeff clapp's original mural idea, and expanded it to create a program that utilizes art to discover and work through issues of stress, isolation, bullying, violence, anger and other disempowering conversations that young people and children struggle with. "I remember being bullied growing up and I remember then turning into one later in my high school years," says Clapp. "Neither one felt good or was in any way satisfying, and the pressures I remember just fitting in were enormous, and I rarely felt at peace. Bullying and violence are not necessarily just going to end, not right away at least. It is part of how we are wired as humans to survive. Our intention is to give young peoplean alternative to turning to bullying, teasing, violence, anger, or even worse, suicide. I dealt with that myself in elementary school and it was a scary time for my parents and for me. I didn't feel like I had someone I could trust with talking about how I felt. We want kids to feel there is a safe space in which they can talk through their issues, that there are others out there going through the same thing, and that they are not alone. They can move past where they get stopped in feeling great about themselves and can experience the leaders that they are and the difference that they each make in bringing about peace."
Their conflict resolution and mediation activity program supports schools and organizations with powerful building blocks to begin creating a lasting culture of peace within the community. The end result product is a "peace mural" that is developed from the overall context built throughout the program. The mural is then exchanged with another mural created by students from a school in a different country or state, and both murals are then displayed for all to see in their new homes. "This will be the largest youth cultural exchange in history and it will impact world views on peace. That is where we as Where Peace Lives Stands," says Jeff. The mural exchange, however, is only a part of the program. During the exchange process youths have an opportunity to have conversations with their neighbors across the globe, including creative writing, discussions, possible email penpal correspondence and other follow-up activities that will help to bridge the gaps that currently keep us in the dark about our global neighbors.
In the spring of 2007, where Peace Lives was a guest presenter at the United Nations as a part of the Ghandi/King Season of Non-Violence Youth Conference. Over 300 students from around New York City accompanied them. This included students from the Conerly Elementary School in Somerset, New Jersey and the Communications High School in Wall, New Jersey. The students from these two schools had completed mural exchanges with schools in Egypt and Peru, and they received enthusiastic applause as they shared their murals with everyone in attendance. They also get a chance to share what participating in the project was like for them and how it impacted their view of the world.
One student from the Wall school, named Jon, expressed the transformation he had in working on the project. "Since the day I was born, my parents always told me that 'Our generation screwed up this world, and your generation is going to fix it.' I've heard it about a million times since then and after hearing it so many times I became desensitized to the idea. I became very accustomed to thinking that my generation was no different. We're just as greedy, selfish, ignorant and pugnacious as all the countless generations before us. What could we possibly change?"
"Then I started working on the mural. During the brainstorming process I had the privilege of hearing what my peers had to say concerning the sate of the world, and how they thought the world should be. Hearing the relentless optimism of my fellow students gave me a new perspective. Sure, making a difference isn't going to be easy, but hey, why not? "
"Our mural depicts the world as we see it, and the world as we feel it should be…However, this mural is unfinished…it's a project that we as humanity are continuously working to paint. As the future scientists, educators, architects, artists and politicians, we the youth add a little more to that canvas every day."
"My parents told me that my generation was going to fix the world. Before this I didn't believe it, but I think I can call myself an optimist again, and can safely say that I'm looking with great expectation toward the future that my peers and I are going to create."
The three founders of Where Peace Lives fervently hope that such experiences can cause peace in the lives of the students they work with, and then ripple out to their family and friends. They note that bullying, delinquency and school violence are among some of the most pressing problems that schools and students face today.
The program is growing rapidly overseas, with new murals being created by two schools in Ghana, Africa, and two schools in Costa Rica. Where Peace Lives has a memorandum of understanding with a youth organization in Jericho, Palestine, along with 50 other organizations and schools worldwide. They are also working with the Islamic Center of Paterson, the largest mosque in New Jersey with over 6,000 families. Much of the interest has been generated through a grant from Google (through its Google Grants Program) that gives Where Peace Lives free advertising on Google in various geographic regions throughout the world. Last summer, Where Peace Lives was chosen as one of the Top 50 projects out of over 7,000 submitted to compete for the American Express Member's Project competition, where one winner received up to $5 million to fulfill their project idea in the world.
Jeff Clapp, who is officially Where Peace Lives' Program Director, sums up the feeling of the organizations creators this way: "I'm inspired by all people", he says. "If you want to know what the truth is for me, we are all connected. Hate and fear, in whatever form they show up in, are just self-serving mechanisms that are so limiting, produce nothing, and destroy the essence of what it is to have the gift of being here on the planet. I don't waste my time on hate or indulging in those conversations–I show others what can be created and accomplished through their words, their creativity and their hearts. When I finished the Landmark Forum I got conceptually that anything was truly possible. Now I'm living that reality in my life through the work that myself, my wife Donna and my partner Jeff are doing. Yes, you can truly have anything you want for yourself or your life out of your participation in the Landmark Forum."
The organization continues to expand in new and unexpected ways. For more information, check out Where Peace Lives and Landmark Education News for more of their incredible accomplishments!