Tony Jenkins, PhD

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What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?

While my work is global, at home in the USA, I’ve been focusing on overcoming political polarization through conflict transformation, dialogue, and transformative learning. My students work on projects developing peace education interventions to address conflicts within the university community. This work is difficult as change is rarely immediately visible. Personal change is slow and cultural change moves at a snail’s pace. It may not be satisfying to implore patience or to paint the metaphor of planting seeds that will one day grow in our absence. Even though there is truth in these platitudes, who can be patient when so many are suffering in the world? I’ve found hope recently in practicing micro-inclusions. I seek to encounter everyone in a way that brings them dignity. When I pass a service worker on my university campus, I greet them with a “sir” or “mam.” It’s these simple quotidian things that bring people into, rather than exclude them, from our moral universe.

What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?

My work as a peace educator has been filled with many profound, life-changing moments. One experience that brought me a lot of hope was organizing and facilitating an educational community forum and dialogue on urban revitalization through the lenses of peace and justice in Toledo, Ohio in 2015 in conjunction with the IIPE. I worked for more than a year meeting and learning from various community stakeholders about issues that mattered to them. It became clear from these conversations that there was a lack of trust amongst and between the many stakeholder groups that were working on peace and justice issues in the community. Groups were competing with each other for scarce resources and negative assumptions about each other had built up over time. The full-day forum brought more than 300 stakeholders, from a broad cross-section of the community to dialogue, listen, learn from each other, and to explore a common future. At the end of the day, a community activist who had been engaged in social justice issues for many years commented on social media: “Amazing conference… got to hear an incredible dialogue between hundreds of people…who are working hard to create more cohesive and conscious communities…kept forgetting I was in Toledo, feel very connected and hopeful for the future and that maybe real change is not as far away as it seems.”

How and why did you start working in peace education?

My first venture in teaching was as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in an experiential-based course on education and social justice. Working with a co-instructor, I taught social issues through photography in an afterschool program for vulnerable youth populations in Detroit. Six weeks into an eight-week program, I received a late-night phone call notifying me that a student had been killed in the crossfire of gang violence. Students came to us seeking to make meaning of this tragedy that took the life of one of their classmates. Learning and reflecting through this experience with my students helped me to understand the true purpose of education: learning is a transformative process of making meaning, and meaning making is an ongoing endeavor in the perpetual process of becoming fully human. This formative experience has guided me in my lifelong learning journey of becoming a peace educator, seeking to understand the nature of violence and to develop and sustain those conditions and capacities essential for peace and justice to flourish.