You might say Eric Dawson is a guy with a one-track mind. Since he was 18-years-old, he has been after only one thing--peace. Growing up in the Midwest, he was deeply affected by the violence that surrounded him…and by the prevalent sentiment that young people were the cause and needed to be fixed.
“As a country, we were medicating kids, incarcerating kids, literally turning our schools into prisons with cops and metal detectors.”
That is why in 1992, as a college freshman, Eric got involved with Peace Games, a day-long peace festival for children that has now grown into a national movement with the simple but powerful name Peace First.
“The problem isn’t just that young people experience violence in their lives and communities but there is a cultural norm that glorifies violence, that models intolerance, that teaches hatred.
Peace First was designed to change that.
“Our big idea was, what if, instead of looking at kids as problems, we prepared them to be problem solvers?”
Eric believes strongly that young people have what it takes to change the world: a sense of hope and possibility, resilience, creativity and a hunger for social justice.
“They are behind almost every major social change movement in our country’s history. Such movements are often led by and almost always powered by young people. More than consumers of culture, young people are powerful forces that help shape our culture.”
Peace First teaches the critical skills of peacemaking, such as conflict resolution and civic engagement, to young people ages 3 to 14, skills which are sorely needed today.
According to Peace First, an average of 160-thousand students miss school each day because they are too scared to go. One in four high school students reports being harassed, bullied or threatened every month. Seventy-four percent of LGBT students report being harassed every year.
The curriculum which Peace First offers free to schools starts with developing the essential social and emotional skills of empathy, personal awareness, relationship building, and promoting inclusion - and goes beyond that to engage young people in seeing themselves as effective communicators and leaders.
Peace First’s on-line curriculum is being used by schools and community groups in all 50 states and 65 countries. And, so far, Eric says, the results have been encouraging, with participants reporting a 60% decrease in disruptive incidents and 81% of students reporting they can walk away from a fight.
“I’m helping build something that makes a difference in the lives of lots of different people, myself included. I’ve got three little kids, and to have them know that I spend my days helping other kids dream a little bit bigger is a really powerful message to be able to carry with them.”
As befits his one-track mind, Eric says other than a brief stint at Burger King, his only gainful employment has been Peace First.
He graduated from Harvard College and holds two additional masters degrees from Harvard.