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Peacebuilding conference generates vital questions

By Steven Youngblood, director, Center for Global Peace Journalism, Park University

I’ve been to a million conferences (roughly), and the way I judge them is this: Do I come away with more questions than answers? Using this criteria, the just completed Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding Conference was a rousing success.

The peacebuilding conference began at Avila University Thursday with a screening of the brilliant film “Chi Raq” and a discussion with filmmaker and KU professor Kevin Willmott about, among other things, gun violence and gun laws.

At the Friday session held at Park, students and professors from Park University (Dr. Lora Cohn and Olga Paschenko), Avila (Dr. Nicole Esquibel), and Johnson County Community College (Dr. Marie Paxton and Taylor Smith) discussed aspects of peacebuilding related to political science and communications, as well as lessons from peacebuilding efforts in Guatemala.

As a way of summarizing these discussions, I presented 10 questions that had been generated by Friday’s  presenters. These are:

  1. How can we open dialogues with those with whom we disagree?
  2. How are audiences manipulated, and how does this manipulation imperil peace?
  3. Which approaches to constructive discourse best facilitate peace?
  4. Can society use agonistic  approaches as a way of not talking past each other?
  5. Does passion have a place in our public discourse, and are passion and peace compatible?
  6. How can we move away from “us vs. them” constructs in politics and media?
  7. How can media/politics/filmmakers give a voice to the voiceless and marginalized in our societies? And how does giving a voice to the voiceless engender peace?
  8. Can peacebuilding lessons from one society be applied to other societies?
  9. How are women differentially impacted by conflict, and how can society leverage women to enhance social justice and peace processes?
  10. How do environmental issues impact indigenous and marginalized communities, and how does this impact peace?

Many of these important questions were on display Saturday at the conference’s final day at JCCC. Keynote speaker Dr. Sita Ranchod-Nilsson gave examples of how women have been key peacebuilders in Africa (question #9), Raymond Kingfisher talked about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests ( #10), I analyzed media clichés and peace journalism (#2, 6, 7), and Sister Jeannette Londadjim discussed how to overcome Christian and Muslim sectarian violence (#1, 3, 8).

Over the next few months, the conference organizers hope to sustain the momentum established by this event to bring together KC area peacebuilders into a consortium. 

The peacebuilding conference was co-sponsored by Park University’s Center for Global Peace Journalism, JCCC, Avila University, and the Kansas City International Relations Council.

–Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn–


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