On behalf of people confronting conflict everywhere we respectfully request your support for the culmination of Coexist, designed to transform the destructive and costly culture of violence in communities and schools. We are committed to building a citizenry that believes in protecting one another and honoring otherness, as a way of creating a more egalitarian and just world. By showing and discussing Coexist, we challenge students, parents, and community members to promote positive behaviors; to make bullying, “othering”, and harmful acts socially unacceptable; and to transform the conditions that allow conflicts to fester and escalate. We are seeking $130,000 to distribute curricular and teaching materials created for Coexist to teach students about violence: how it escalates, how it is justified, which thoughts and emotions support it and which ones challenge it, and how the conditions that support violence can be changed. A grant will serve to broaden our efforts beyond Boston area classrooms and youth groups to other regions throughout the country. We will facilitate structured conversations with teenagers in the U.S. about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that escalate violence, and those that de-escalate it. We will introduce our humanizing curricula into schools and youth groups, teaching skills that prevent violence and protect vulnerable groups from harm to achieve our ultimate goal: creating cultures of conflict resolution within schools and throughout society.
What Is Coexist?
Coexist is a documentary film and educational package that examines how trauma survivors in Rwanda cope when forced to live side by side with perpetrators of genocide released back into the communities where they terrorized their neighbors. The film explores issues of dehumanization, forgiveness, reconciliation, and rehumanization. The film and Viewer’s Guide pose vital questions about whether we are all capable of violence and to what degree forgiveness of perpetrators must be relational.
What Makes Coexist Unique?
We have engaged numerous Rwanda scholars in a rigorous critical evaluation throughout post-production to improve the film, which will be completed in August. Those scholars tell us that Coexist provides an important corrective to the inaccurate popular narrative on Rwanda. Other films do not address the policy of forced reconciliation, and its limitations and shortcomings. A recent refugee, who fled the country following his work for Rwanda’s Intelligence Service, said the film captures the reality in Rwanda better than any film he knows. We believe the film breaks new ground documenting the true impact on individuals intimately involved in an unprecedented and precarious public policy experiment that compels survivors and perpetrators to try to reconcile. It is an experiment that is poorly understood by most Rwandans and almost completely ignored or unknown outside Rwanda.
How We Reach Youth
Through facilitated viewings of Coexist we catalyze conversations about the genesis and escalation of violence, effective means of stopping it, and the responsibility to protect all people from harm. Our target audi-ence of youth, both in and out-of-school, regularly encounters stereotyping, “othering,” and bullying – behaviors that lead to violence and hate crimes, and in Rwanda, helped lead to genocide. Discussions will connect the stories of Rwandans with the personal experiences of viewers. Topics include how tension develops and escalates, the cycle of violence, typical justifications of violence, role of cliques and stereotyping, role of authority and submission, and the psychology of trauma. A discussion guide and supplementary video modules will explore escalation of violence in Rwanda and an overview of genocide. Viewers learn about positive bystander behavior and action steps they can take to restore broken relationships and contribute to creating a culture where conflicts are resolved.
Why Action Is Essential
The institutionalized nature of stereotyping, name-calling, intimidation, and bullying in American culture, including youth culture, poses a serious threat to our ability to coexist with each other and protect the well-being of our people. This crisis demands the focused attention of educators, youth, parents, community leaders, and philanthropists to teach skills that promote positive behaviors, reduce tension, and prevent violence.
The approach of Coexist is based on the established proven methods of Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO). While adapting to the practices of our partners, we also base our strategy on the positive impact of Circle Processes, a peacemaking practice based on respectful, egalitarian interaction. These processes stress inclusivity, tracing their origins to First Nation peoples in northern Canada. Participants speak at their own pace, focus attention on each individual, and foster trust. Circles provide an excellent context for processing the powerful images and testimony that viewers see in Coexist.
Working with the Community
We collaborate with community partners through facilitated film viewings to enhance their existing efforts to develop peaceful youth leaders committed to the de-escalation of conflict. We are working with partners (FHAO, Boston Public Schools, Teen Empowerment, Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, and Youth Partnership for Empowerment) to create a dissemination plan. Our plan focuses on youth leadership development, survivor support, and conflict transformation. Coexist addresses the need for socio-emotional skill development and an action-oriented campaign for community peace-building.
Personal stories of faraway Rwandans are useful in our discussions about violence, how it persists in our lives, and what skills can be cultivated to prevent the escalation of violence. We have found that using a distant example to discuss violence can feel safer for youth and help them remain open-minded about the origins of conflict. They also relate more easily to being in someone else’s shoes, an essential step to fostering empathy.
Coexist also presents a new perspective for American students to learn about ways to resolve conflict by reaching youth with a different culture and a historical element. We especially focus on youth because they are highly vulnerable to societal messaging and feelings of disenfranchisement. We believe we can more ef-fectively create cultures of conflict resolution in schools and therein the larger community by helping to develop youth leaders who understand the origins of violence, see its potential within themselves, and commit themselves to working for peace and justice.
Who We Are
Beginning in July 2008 Project Director & Filmmaker Adam Mazo created this project and has since recruited the Coexist Advisory Board which includes experts with decades of experience in multiple disciplines: humanities, conflict resolution, preventative diplomacy, genocide studies, Rwanda, community organ-izing and outreach, filmmaking, fundraising, and website building. Our core staff now includes a Learning Director, Outreach Director, more than 20 volunteers, and most recently, our first intern.
Coexist and its Teacher’s Guide are catalysts for individual and community reflection on the responsibility to protect vulnerable groups from harm and the pressing need for us as a society to learn how to de-escalate potentially harmful situations that arise in our communities. As with any effort to create long-term social and behavioral change, measuring the impact of a project like Coexist is challenging. Throughout the development of our film we have screened works-in-progress several times for 200+ students, educators, funders, filmmakers, and com-munity leaders prompting many hours of discussion. During this months-long process we have tracked the impact of Coexist and further developed its curriculum serving to improve our project as it grows. Coexist Learning Director Dr. Mishy Lesser, is an experienced evaluator who has devised measures to assess Coexist through a combination of open-ended questions, surveys, and group-based discussions. Questions aim to determine the applicability of both film and discussion guide to the reality and needs of youth viewers, awareness and understanding of the cycle of violence, how to become a positive bystander, heightened awareness of one’s own values with regard to violence/reconciliation/revenge, and sensitivity to the experience of those who are “othered.” Equally important are shifts in motivation to support policies that promote inclusion, and contain harassment and scapegoating.
While it is beyond the bounds of current evaluation capacity to conduct pre- and post-tests, or to track the impact of the film on larger, more systemic measures such as an improved learning environment at school or neighborhood conflict de-escalation, using our survey we will ask youth viewers to assess the degree to which they believe the film and discussion have enhanced their conflict transformation and communication skills, and contributed to improvements in self-awareness about their own conduct and values at home, at school, in their peer relationships, and in their neighborhood.
Ultimately, what most matters is raising the level of awareness and reflection about the responsibility to protect people from harm and the degree to which this reflection contributes to a more peaceable culture. In the context of a school, this would include meaningful support of anti-harassment/anti-bullying policies, vigorous support of the school’s civic and social mission, an improved learning environment, more leadership responsibility for students, and awareness and understanding that the school is a place where conflicts are resolved respectfully and peacefully. In the context of community organizations, this will lead to increased engagement of youth in leadership development activities, conflict de-escalation, peace-building, and civic life.
Since July 2008, we have successfully raised more than $218,000 in cash and in-kind from foundations and private donors to complete the first three phases of Coexist. This amount includes more than $46,000 from Mass Humanities, the Yip Harburg Foundation, and other foundations as well as more than $13,000 from dozens of individuals. For the culmination of Coexist we will raise more than $250,000 for our first year of outreach, headed by experienced educator and curriculum designer, Dr. Lesser. This reflects our commitment to the most important component of our project: outreach and engagement with youth. Our team, which includes several volunteer advisors and contributors, is committed to donating more than one-third of this amount in-kind.
What Donated Funds Will Support
Funding will support our efforts to distribute our original curricular and teaching materials that introduce students to dispute resolution concepts and training. We can also penetrate the hardest to reach audiences in underfunded public schools within large cities where violence is too common and efforts to prevent it are especially challenging. $700 will allow us to offer a half-day workshop at no cost to the school, youth group or faith group. Beginning in the fall we will conduct at least one workshop per week, 40 in the upcoming school year. That organization will retain resources including: a DVD, teacher’s guide, supplementary learning aids, and the knowledge gained from participating in our workshop. All of these tools will be utilized for many years to come to sustain and build on efforts to create cultures of conflict resolution in schools and throughout the communities we serve. $50 will allow us to offer the Coexist DVD and teacher’s guide to high schools with the capacity to teach the curriculum across the U.S. Our Project Director, Learning Director, Outreach Director, Advisory Board and support staff will assist in expanding our contact list to identify ap-propriate recipients for workshops and DVDs. In addition to our anticipated national reach through FHAO, relationships built by team members in Los Angeles, Orlando, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and across the country will allow us to reach schools nationwide.