Building Community Peace, One Relationship at a Time

Authored by Leslie Brunker, Peacebuilder, Rotary Club of Portland

A wonderful thing happened about four years ago.  It came to my attention that there was a meeting happening in my community every other Friday that was all about growing peace through relationships.  As the Chair of the Peacebuilders committee at the Rotary Club of Portland, I’m interested in building better relationships and community peace.  So I started attending.

At the time, the group was called The Gang Violence Task Force.  It had started some years before as a response to the effects of (gang) violence in the community.  By the time I started attending, along with other Rotarians from our Peacebuilders committee, it was clear that this group was not just focused on gang violence, but the effects of all violence in the community, and how to heal the relationships in the wake of violent events.  We started asking the question whether or not the “Gang Violence Task Force” was the right name for this group.  The discussion went toward what we want to create, rather than toward what we want to avoid.  From those discussion came a vote on a new name, which brought about the Community Peace Collaborative.  Now there is a name that really describes what’s happening every other week in that conference room at North Precinct.

That conference room gathers about 100 people for each meeting for 90 minutes, every other Friday morning.  Those hundred people come from many different perspectives, backgrounds, agencies, interests, experiences, ethnicities, religions, involvements, and ideas.  The group comprises social service agency representatives, schools, police officers, district attorneys, ministers, rabbis, former gang members, counselors, city employees, park rangers, public transportation employees, students, adults, youth, business community, Rotary members, interested citizens, etc.  As a result, it is the most diverse gathering I attend.  It is rich.  Everyone is focused on making our community a more peaceful place to live.  Everyone is committed to peaceful interactions, even in the presence of so many differences.

You may wonder how such a large and incredibly diverse group can get through an agenda in 90 minutes twice a month when topics are heated, emotional, personal, and held dear.  What really makes this work is the talented, skillful, artful, big-hearted, well-connected facilitator, Antoinette Edwards.  She can facilitate hard conversations like a seasoned orchestra conductor.  She makes it look easy and graceful.  She finds a way to allow each person to get heard respectfully, and she keeps the meetings moving along.  Ms. Edwards is a true gift to the community of Portland.

The Community Peace Collaborative gives me hope for the future.  It helps me to learn what’s happening in my larger community.  It’s a home where I can meet people different from me, with whom I get to build new friendships, one relationship at a time.  After each meeting I leave thinking that if everyone in that room feels the way I do in that moment, if they all feel the love and understanding that I feel, then there truly is hope for peace.  Peace in our city.  Peace in our world.

–Leslie Brunker
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