Discussion Guide for Students and Educators
* A special note: Discussing trauma with students can in and of itself be a triggering event. It is important that students participate voluntarily in discussions and activities and that they are aware of mental and emotional health resources that are available to them.
The members of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows have worked for 19 years to turn the trauma and grief their families experienced into action for peace. We see a similar need for resiliency, merged with advocacy, arise as our lives are besieged by institutional racism, violence, and COVID-19.
In recognition of the 19th commemoration of 9/11, members of Peaceful Tomorrows joined with international allies to present a series of virtual webinars focused on peace and reconciliation work around the world. This webinar, entitled “Building Bridges For Peace In A Divided World” is the second in the series. The international panel features activists who are building bridges after experiencing adversity. The panelists share how they transformed their pain and suffering into working for a more peaceful world. They provide examples of bridge building within their communities and their work with an empowered younger generation of change makers.
Jo Berry, Founder of Building Bridges for Peace
Jo is an inspiring speaker from the UK who works to resolve conflict around the world. Sixteen years after her father was killed by an IRA bomb, Jo first met with the man responsible, Pat Magee. This initial three-hour meeting led to them speaking on over three hundred occasions, on a shared platform around the world. The founder of the charity ‘Building Bridges for Peace’, Jo advocates that unbounded empathy is the biggest weapon we have to end conflict. Jo is currently working in schools empowering young people to be positive change makers. With political, religious and racial divides deepening as global and local events unfold, her words offer a message of hope and encourage us all to see the humanity in others.
Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, Co-Directors of Parents Circle – Families Forum
Bassam lives in Jericho in the West Bank. At the age of 17, he was incarcerated and spent 7 years in an Israeli jail. He went on to study history and holds an MA in Holocaust studies from the University of Bradford, England. He became a member of the Parents Circle in 2007 after losing his 10-year-old daughter Abir, who was killed by an Israeli border policeman in front of her school. Bassam devotes his time and energies to his conviction for a peaceful, non-violent end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
Rami is a 7th generation Jerusalemite. He identifies himself as a Jew, an Israeli, and before everything else a human being. On the first day of the school year in 1997, Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers who murdered 5 people that day. Soon after, Rami joined the Parents Circle, and speaks before Israeli, Palestinian and International audiences
Karen Shea, Peaceful Tomorrows Member
Karen is an assistant principal at an alternative school in Denver, Colorado. She was a 21 year old, first year high school social studies teacher on September 11, 2001 when her uncle, Stephen E. Tighe was killed at the World Trade Center. In 2005, Karen traveled with the Peaceful Tomorrows delegation to Spain to meet with the families of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings and with survivors of the bombing of Guernika. Throughout her 19 years in education, Karen has focused on providing students with opportunities to study peace education, engage in social justice, and to become more involved in the betterment of their communities
Nick Perrotti, Peaceful Tomorrows Intern & Moderator
Before You Watch
- Review Key Vocabulary: trauma, advocacy, activism, justice, forgiveness, resiliency, nonviolence
- What do students already know about these terms?
- Provide a Purpose:
- In your educational setting, what is the purpose for students to watch the roundtable? What do you want them to get out of this experience?
While You Watch (If Watching Together)
- Pause Frequently:
- After each panelist responds to the moderators’ question, consider pausing to check for understanding and to conduct an informal wellness check.
- Ask students to watch and listen for themes. What do the speakers’ responses have in common?
After You Watch
- Questions for Oral or Written Discussion/Reflection:
- Panelists were asked to share their personal story and how their experiences with grief or pain changed their life and brought them to peace advocacy. What resonated with you with their stories? Did you find any connections to your own life journey?
- Rami begins his personal story by talking about all the ways in which he identifies himself, including “most importantly as a human being”. As you listened to his experiences, what role(s) did the concept of identity play in his life story? How did his way of self identifying change over time? How did it remain the same?
- Rami talked briefly about his experience fighting in the October 1973 war on the Sinai Peninsula and how he emerged from that war with a lot of anger and a goal of detaching. Do you think this is a typical reaction to grief or trauma? What are the impacts of such a response on an individual? On a family? On a community?
- When someone dies in the Jewish faith, the family has seven formal days of morning (sitting shiva). Rami speaks to both the purpose of the practice and the aftermath of the loss, including dealing with feelings of retribution or retaliation. How was Rami able to turn his grief towards a different path? What supports and experiences influenced his journey?
- How did Rami’s preconceived ideas about Palestinians change? What can you do to change the stereotypes that you may have about certain groups of people?
- Like Rami, Bassam speaks to the idea of detaching and states that Palestians are not able to detach. What does he mean by this?
- Bassam became a fighter at the age of 13 and went to prison at 17. What experiences and understandings changed his previously held beliefs about violence and anger?
- Bassam had started his peace and reconciliation work prior to his daughter’s death and made a conscious decision to continue the work. Why is this?
- Bassam says that “we are born to live, not born to kill” and speaks about to needing to start with ourselves to make the world safer. How has he Rami and Bassam were born into two different sides of a long standing political conflict. In what ways were their experiences in the same? How were they different?
- How has he modeled this in his own life?
- Jo lost her father in an IRA bombing in 1984. While living in peaceful times, Jo expressed that this act made her feel as if she had entered a war. However, she made a decision early on to seek understanding rather than retribution. How did this influence her journey later on?
- How did the peace process in Northern Ireland accelerate Jo’s meeting with Patrick Magee, the man responsible for the bombing that killed her father? How was Jo able to see his humanity through the political rhetoric?
- How did Jo’s approach to her interactions with Patrick Magee encourage dialogue? What role does listening play in her approach?
- Jo speaks about the importance of not creating the “other” or demonizing people. How has she been able to avoid this pitfall? What lessons can be applied to your own life?
- Karen talks about how private grief was a very public event with 9/11. What impact might an event of that magnitude have on the grieving and healing process?
- Karen speaks to the need to be a role model for resiliency in the face of tragedy. How does this mindset resonate with the stories of Rami, Bassam, and Jo?
- What resonated with you as you listened to the panelists share their personal stories? How were their journeys the same? How were they different? What lessons did you learn from their narratives?
- Each of the panelists works with young people as either part of their vocation or their work with peace and reconciliation. How are younger generations directly or indirectly impacted by this work? How are the approaches of the panelists similar? Different?
- Rami shares what it is like for him and Bassam working with mixed groups of Israelis and Palestinians. How do they approach teaching the next generation?
- Bassam speaks to the dynamic that exists between occupiers and those affected by occupation. Why is understanding this dynamic important to facilitating peace work with youth living in conflict?
- Jo talks about the impact of sharing her story as a means for developing trust and connection. How does storytelling contribute to that and why is it important?
- How does Jo’s work with young people empower them as individuals?
- Jo shares how she responds to students who question her non-revenge mindset. Why is it important to hear the counter narrative when confronted with those challenges? What tools does Jo utilize?
- Karen speaks to the narrowness of the curriculum in the United States. What strategies can be used to move past the limited scope of the standard curriculum?
- Karen also mentions that students she serves often face systemic barriers. What are those barriers and how can they be overcome?
- What do you think Karen means when she says that it’s important for young people to be taught to be “compassionate thinkers”?
- Karen’s school utilizes restorative practices. What does this mean? Do you see evidence of these practices in your school?
- Bassam states that one of the challenges he faces in his work is the “cancer of ignorance” — not just with students but with teachers as well. What does he mean by this? What are ways to disrupt the cycle of ignorance?
- According to Jo, what is the emphasis of the “restorative way”?
- Both Bassam and Rami talk about the impact of victimhood in their cultural and religious histories. How does victimhood impact the ability of opposing sides to see the humanity in the other? How have Rami and Bassam overcome this barrier?
- Politics was discussed frequently in the dialogue as a challenge in many different contexts. What strategies do the panelists share for addressing political barriers?
- Jo talks about the trauma during and after conflict and the impact on peace work. What impact can trauma have on the work? What conditions are needed to engage in peace work?
- Seeing others as human beings is a common theme throughout the dialogue. What does it mean to see someone’s humanity?
- The concept of forgiveness is interwoven throughout the dialogue, but it can be a controversial and highly personal idea. Why do you think that is? What is forgiveness? Must one forgive? When the panelists talk about the idea that we can make peace without forgiveness, do you agree? Why or why not?
- How are the concepts of forgiveness and redemption related? Can you have one without the other?
- How do stories and storytelling contribute to the processes of healing and change?
- Projects for Further Exploration/Calls to Action
- Read Colum McCann’s book Apeirogon and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows: Turning our Grief into Action for Peace by David Potorti and members of Peaceful Tomorrows to develop deeper understandings through personal narratives.
- Take action in your community. How can you become an advocate in your own community? What projects or causes are you passionate about and how can you get involved?
- Educate yourself on a social justice minded organization or movement. Research the work of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Building Bridges for Peace, The Parents Circle – Families Forum, Black Lives Matter, or other social justice-minded and peace building organizations and movements. What do these organizations seek to do? How can you be an ally or start your own movement?
- Become an ally. Research the experiences of communities that are different than your own and use social media and your voice to stand behind them and support their efforts.
- Continue your own journey. Reflect on your own habits, attitudes, and beliefs and take steps to eliminate your own prejudices.