Young people in Chicago and Phnom Penh are separated by language, culture, and nearly 9,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. What aligns their experiences are shared histories of state and interpersonal violence and generational trauma. As we mark the fortieth anniversary of the Khmer Rouge genocide which took the lives of nearly one in four Cambodians, a group of Chicago activists organized under “We Charge Genocide” are petitioning the United Nations to recognize a global epidemic of police violence that disproportionately impacts young people of color as well as queer, trans, and gender nonconforming youth from marginalized communities.

Cities of Peace is an intergenerational initiative which connects the struggles of young people in Chicago and Phnom Penh as they organize to transform harm caused by state and interpersonal violence and create community healing. Using their own site-specific histories as a jumping off point, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Peace Institute of Cambodia have formed delegations of youth Peace Fellows who have interrogated the roots of structural and relational violence and practiced transformative justice.

Over the course of two years (2014-2016), youth have participated in an international exchange through which Chicago Peace Fellows visited Cambodia in April 2015 and Cambodian Peace Fellows visited Chicago in July 2015. The exchange centered histories of state violence and community resistance featuring local historians, human rights advocates, legislators, community organizers, artists, as well as survivors of violence and trauma. The exchange culminated in a Youth Peace Summit through which young activists shared their experiences and presented a collective platform for international solidarity.

During the second year of the initiative, Peace Fellows worked in partnership with the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce to develop a trauma-informed critical curriculum. This toolkit includes original research, lesson plans, community organizing techniques, arts interventions, and classroom engagement activities for educators and youth doing critical resistance and healing work. This curriculum was launched at the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair and will be distributed to local, national, and international educators and youth workers in partnership with the Cambodian Peace Institute and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

In additional to curriculum development, Peace Fellows supported the production of a documentary film created in collaboration with Free Spirit Media which is designed as a companion to the curriculum and acts as a powerful counter-narrative to popular media representations of young people of color, LGBTQ young people, and low income youth. This film is available online and may be screened in classrooms, youth centers, film festivals, conferences, and all other educational/organizing spaces.

The final component of the Cities of Peace Program is a Teach-In Series through which Peace Fellows utilized that film and curriculum and partnered with local artists, activists, and scholars to facilitate trauma-informed popular education workshops with Chicago Public School Teachers and youth workers. The Teach-In Series (January - May, 2016) offered educators monthly 6 hour workshop hosted at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum with guest speakers and site visits from the Cambodian American Heritage Museum, Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce, EnLace Chicago, University of Chicago Center for Arts and Public Life, and Chicago Police Torture Justice Memorials. After completing the Teach-In Series, educators and youth workers developed K-12 lesson plans inspired by the Peace Fellows' curriculum, which is currently part of the final Cities of Peace Workbook available digitally and in print at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

Cities of Peace was made possible through the support of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, University of Illinois at Chicago, Institute of Museum and Library Services, American Alliance of Museums, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs - US Department of State, Chicago Art Department, Peace Institute of Cambodia, Cambodian American Heritage Museum, Free Spirit Media, Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce, and Project Nia. For more information, check out the Cities of Peace website and curriculum