The Veterans of Hope Project is dedicated to sharing the insights, history and experience of our “veteran” elders (and the communities they represent) with younger people — particularly, helping youth to recognize the centrality of religion and culture as resources for healing-centered, compassionate, social and personal transformation. We have found a variety of ways to do this – through workshops, retreats and leadership development programs — often in partnership with other organizations.
We have conducted workshops and trainings for the Algebra Project, and its youth-run initiative The Young People’s Project; for the Freedom Schools initiative of the Children’s Defense Fund; for Americorps team members and administrators and for dozens of other local and national organizations whose focus is young people and youth education.
In 2003 we developed the Ambassadors of Hope program for youth leadership development in partnership with several local Denver educational and cultural institutions. For five hours each Saturday for ten weeks, a multiracial, multiethnic and wonderfully gifted group of 25 young people (ages 10-22) came together at Escuela Tlatelolco, a landmark Chicano educational institution to learn movement history from community elders and begin to interpret that history for their own generation.
Starting with quiet meditation and ritual smudging from Native tradition, each week the youth shared their reflections on the previous week and prepared to engage a new visiting “elder”. In the tradition of the Veterans of Hope Project, the young people learned directly from older activsts in the local Denver community who shared their own stories of struggle, hope and healing. At the same time, the youth were encouraged to reflect on what they had learned – as well as to communicate their own concerns, hopes and questions – through the creation of performance pieces in dance, visual arts, and poetry/spoken word. Supported by a committed and well-prepared group of artists and resource persons, the meetings consisted of leadership development workshops that focused on the history of progressive social movements, emphasizing especially the role of religion, spirituality and culture in developing qualities and characteristics of compassionate leadership, leadership for service.
On one Saturday, one of our participants, Kimimila Rose Irving Means, presented an essay she had written at an earlier time in her life, calling for greater racial and cultural unity among young people in Denver and elsewhere. After reading the moving expression of her heart, Kimi looked at our deeply diverse circle and said, “This is like my dream coming true now.”
Our collaborators in this Ambassadors of Hope Project were Escuela Tlatelolco, which provided meeting space for us as well as several students; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, an African American/multiracial modern dance company which provided resource people in dance education; Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, an African American community center and cultural project which sponsored several of our youth and also provided a resource person in the spoken arts; Calmeca Cuahtemoc, an educational and cultural organization for Mexican American and Indigenous youth which also sponsored young participants and whose director served as a consultant to the project; and the Metro Denver Black Church Initiative which also sponsored several youth. Our final celebration/performance was held on at El Centro Su Teatro, a Chicano community theatre – where, in spite of an early May snowstorm that left close to 10 inches by the morning of our final rehearsal, the youth had a packed house of parents, friends and community well-wishers present to witness their work.
Our Ambassadors of Hope program continued in alternate summers from 2005, culminating in 2012 in the development of a national network of eight community-based organizations dedicated to intergenerational movement building – the Network of Hope. These organizations included the Beloved Community Center (Greensboro, NC); Barrios Unidos (Santa Cruz, CA); the Boggs Center (Detroit, MI); Cookman United Methodist Church (Philadelphia, PA); the Black Star Project (Chicago, IL); Tewa Women United (Northern New Mexico) and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Denver, CO) Each of the organizations partnered with another and youth leaders were able to visit and work in each other’s sites, sharing observations and learning from each other’s experiences of organizing.