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Kroc School Students Honored at Sinaloa Peace Festival

MA in Social Innovation students Jessica Aparicio and Bianca Alvarado celebrate at the Peace Festival.MA in Social Innovation students Jessica Aparicio and Bianca Alvarado celebrate at the Peace Festival.

On Saturday, May 12, 16 students from the Kroc School's Master's in Peace and Justice and Master's in Social Innovation programs were honored at the inaugural Peace Festival in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Along with 35 local young people, they completed “I am Somebody,” the latest version of the Kroc School’s certificate program in Applied Peace Education in Mexico over the course of six weekend seminars. The closing ceremony for the certificate program kicked off the festival.

Just as the sun was starting to set on a hot spring afternoon, a crowd gathered in front of the stage and on the overlooking pedestrial bridges at the Parque de la Riberas, along the banks of the Tamazula River in downtown Culiacán. Local journalists and Paola Camacho and Carlos Rea, who completed the certificate program, presented a series of video testimonials produced by a mixed team of Kroc School and local students, who interviewed victims and survivors of violence. Even in front of a large crowd in a busy public space, something about seeing ordinary people on their living room sofa or at their kitchen table describing the loss of a loved one and their fear of the authorities commands attention and silence. Just off the the right of the stage, another team presented a photo documentary project on the cenotafios of Culiacán — thousands of informal memorials to murder victims that dot the city.  

After these glimpses of the intense collaborative experiences in the program, Trans-Border Institute (TBI) Director Ev Meade presented the students with their diplomas. He began his remarks with a reflection on Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that the path of “nonviolence is for courageous people.” They are the brave ones, not those who hide behind weapons, threats and violent language.  

To the young graduates of the certificate program and the families and festival goers, Dr. Meade urged three key lessons from the experience:

Transcend borders. The program succeeded precisely because it emphasized and valued the diverse perspectives of students who live in two very different cities – San Diego and Culiacán – and come from a variety of national origins.

Focus on youth. Young people make up the majority of the victims and the perpetrators in the current wave of violence pounding Mexico, and they should be the focus of peacebuilding efforts.

Cultivate knowledge and empathy. We need research and data to make the case for peace, but we also need a compassionate public to bring it to fruition.      

Creating this kind of public was the central goal of the festival. The festival was structured around a concert, where seven local acts played a variety of popular hits on the theme of peace, while images of local struggles for peace and justice flickered across a giant screen behind them. In between musical numbers, the bands invited activists and survivors to share their stories with the crowd.

Adrián Chavela, a local musician who graduated from last year’s version of the Kroc certificate program, invited members of Las Rastreadoras to the stage — a group of mothers dedicated to investigating the truth and pursuing justice on behalf of their disappeared sons and daughters. In a flood of tears, Adrián celebrated their maternal suffering and survival as a moral example and a call to action.

Bringing people engaged in a social movement that explicitly challenges the authorities to the stage in the middle of a violent conflict so that they could speak about violence in front of the general public was a powerful gesture. The emotion of the crowd was palpable. Everyone felt their pain and outrage and a sense that it was OK to express those feelings. And it was peaceful — the warmth and politeness of the audience showed the enormous hospitality and kindness of Culiacán, in contrast to its dark reputation abroad.

The mood was at times heavy, but it was also fun and inviting. The bands belted out everything from the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Christina Aguilera, and kept everyone on their feet and moving to the beat.

The concert underscored a key lesson. If we want peacebuilding to be something more than an academic field or a set of technical practices, it has to have a soul. It needs art, music and gatherings where people express how they feel, not just what they think.

What's Next?

Several of the students involved in the Sinaloa program will help Meade to launch the first full certificate program in Tijuana, Baja California on May 18. Come to one of the modules in Tijuana – outside guests are welcome. If you’re really interested in this kind of work, consider one of the Kroc School's graduate programs. TBI and Meade are happy to share and replicate the curriculum in other places and for other audiences. For more information, contact transborder@sandiego.edu for more information. And TBI and the Kroc School depend upon grants and donations to make this work possible. Please consider supporting us.

— Story and photos provided by Ev Meade and TBI.

Contact:

Ev Meade
emeade@sandiego.edu
619 260-4161