Activists bring peace conference to U

The group, PeaceJam, was established last fall and will be a host of the PeaceJam Upper Midwest Conference in April.

by Katherine Lymn

The 2009 PeaceJam conferences, which aim to connect Nobel Peace Prize Laureates with young people, will be held at the University of Minnesota this year starting with SaturdayâÄôs kickoff events. The presidents of this yearâÄôs and last yearâÄôs PeaceJam student group at the University played crucial roles in bringing the conference to campus. Political science and global studies senior and current PeaceJam president Matt Buechner said he and previous president Dylan Nitzkorski advocated for the conference to be held at the University. While Metropolitan State University held the conference for the Upper Midwest PeaceJam affiliate the past two years, the school is currently having financial difficulties that make it unable to host this year, Buechner said. Buechner and Nitzkorski met with Donna Gillen , executive director of youthrive , which oversees the Upper Midwest PeaceJam affiliate, University Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and members of the UniversityâÄôs YMCA, which eventually partnered with the University to host the event, Buechner said. âÄúWe kind of hashed it out to see whether or not it was going to be beneficial for the U to bring it here and whether it was going to be a good fit for PeaceJam,âÄù he said. âÄúIn the end, we decided that the University YMCA and our group [and] the University of Minnesota were going to be putting this on in a partnership with youthrive,âÄù he said. Gillen said while the University provided the space, facilities and other resources for the event, youthriveâÄôs fundraising from foundations, corporations and individuals raised the majority of the cash for the event. âÄúHaving [the conference] at the U is just such a fabulous bonus,âÄù Gillen said. âÄúIt just offers so much.âÄù Buechner said SaturdayâÄôs conference, held at both the Northrop Auditorium and Folwell Hall , is a lead up to the concluding conference. âÄúThe fall Slam is to do things like workshops and to brainstorm ideas âĦ and then the spring is more of a celebration for what people have accomplished in their communities and to present our work to Rigoberta,âÄù he said. SaturdayâÄôs events include a keynote speech by University Latin American history professor Patrick McNamara and workshops focused on the global call to action issues. âÄúFamily groups,âÄù which are made up of a college-aged mentor and 10 to 12 younger students from the Upper Midwest, will allow the opportunity for the youth to discuss their own community work, Gillen said. The second part to this yearâÄôs conference, which will take place in April, will bring 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum to campus. Group vice president and University Spanish and social justice senior Sara Kettering said PeaceJam at the University was started last fall by Nitzkorski, who was âÄúlooking to bring PeaceJam, as the entire international organization, down to the local level.âÄù This ideology is the basis of the groupâÄôs actions even today, as the group aims to apply international PeaceJamâÄôs worldly efforts on the local, college campus scale, Buechner said. âÄúWe take the foundation of PeaceJam, the international organization and the foundation of our group, and try to apply it to the real world,âÄù he said. Buechner said the group also does general community service projects throughout the year. Most recently, they did raking for elderly around the area. âÄúWe do like to have some sort of community service through service learning projects as part of our group as well because thatâÄôs a main focus of PeaceJam the foundation,âÄù he said. Another new activity the group is trying is âÄúPeace and Popcorn,âÄù where members watch a popular show somehow related to the groupâÄôs call to action âÄî combating hate âÄî and discuss the themes afterward, Kettering said.