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We all face moments of obligation in our lives. Times when we can no longer sit back and let things be as they are.  Moments when we take a stand, join a cause, speak up in order to live our values.  When we are called to be part of something larger and greater, when our language shifts from “somebody ought to,” to “I am going to”.  When we say yes, I will. 

Eric Dawson

These moments often involve sacrifice and risk – personal, professional, financial – and can be difficult to explain.  They aren’t accompanied by soaring speeches or fireworks.  They don’t involve grand titles or swearing-in ceremonies.  They involve the silent “yes” inside our hearts and spirits and require the daily commitment to live with conflict, messiness and uncertainty.

My moment of obligation began nearly 30 years ago when I first met Francelia Butler.

She believed adults had failed to make the world a better place and let young people take the lead.  

I was 18 years old and having arrived at Harvard on scholarship was trying to find my place. Meeting Fran and other young people organizing a peace festival I was hooked: this was the work I was going to commit to, the challenge I was going to take on. To build a movement, fueled by young people, to create a more peaceful and just world, it was going to take my full commitment. It was going to take all of me. And it has.

I have dedicated my entire adult life to unleashing the compassionate creativity of young people. Taking Peace First from a college volunteer program to a school-based SEL curriculum to a digital social innovation incubator has been a wild, frustrating and inspiring ride. I have been joined on this journey by an amazing community of colleagues, champions, funders, partners and of course generations of young people who have trusted Peace First to trust them to lead. To love something is to say yes, again and again, each and every day. I have loved every moment of the past 30 years of my work at Peace First.  

I find myself now at another moment of obligation. I find myself no longer interested in asking “what am I willing to give?” but rather “what am I willing to give up?” to create a more just and equitable world. In the past three years, our youth community has shifted from being 90% US-based to 90% non-US based. Our staff team is increasingly youth-led and global. Our leadership should be too. It is time to create space for new leadership and new voices and new vision.

In April 2022, Peace First board launched a search for co-CEOs to take Peace First into its next chapter of impact and development. They were not looking to replace me – and not because I am irreplaceable but because we need new models of leadership that move beyond rigid criteria that exclude so much amazing talent, that ignore the value of lived experience and overlook the strength of networks that can’t be measured by LinkedIn connections.

What was once a group of college students with binders teaching a three-week curriculum in Boston schools is now a global movement of young people spanning over 164 countries imagining and creating new social innovations for the world’s most intractable problems. We are a movement that wants to do something big and audacious working in a world that so desperately needs a counterweight to a culture of exclusion, bigotry and fear. And there is a lot to do.

After a remarkable search process, the Peace First board was able to identify two leaders with the vision, lived experience and passion to lead Peace First into the future. This is their moment of obligation. I look forward to championing them and their vision, just as Francelia did for me, 30 years ago.