The Interrupters

I had seen clips of the documentary the Interrupters on PBS a few times, but never got a chance to watch the full length of the movie. When I finally wanted to watch it, they weren’t airing it on T.V anymore. Luckily the PBS website had the full documentary online and for this blog I will give a summary of the movie and what I thought about it.

The Interrupters

The documentary “The Interrupters” looks at the life of three Violence Interrupters and their work within a span of one year. These Violence Interrupters work with an organization called Ceasefire in the most conflict-reddened areas of Chicago, who try to protect these communities from violence that they were once a part of. The film was directed by Steve James, an acclaimed director known for his powerful portrayal and insight of communities and cultures in his movies and documentaries. Interrupters was filmed during a period of constant youth violence in parts of Chicago, in African American and Latino neighborhoods, and during a time when the United States had its eye on Chicago as a national symbol for the violence in our communities.

Founder of Ceasefire, Gary Slutkin, believes that the spread of violence in communities is similar to the spread of diseases and epidemics, “violence is like the great diseases of history…. violence as behavior, not as bad people.” For the young people in these neighborhoods, they see violence as their disease and they expect that they are going to die from this. Tio Hardiman, who created Ceasefires main program, “Violence Interrupters” explains that violence is a two-step process. The first thought is grievances; people come up with reasons to start a conflict for example, “He looked at my girl…he owes me money…he’s a Sunni…he’s a Palestinian, and so forth. The second thought is that these grievances justify the violence.” Tio, just like members of the Violence Interrupters has street credibility (because of his own personal history), which gives him full insight into the violence and minds of Chicago’s youth.

Violence Interrupters

The three Violence Interrupters that are followed throughout this documentary are Amina Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra. Amina was the daughter of Jeff Ford, one of the biggest gang leaders in the history of Chicago. In the documentary Amina is what Tio calls the “golden girl,” she knows how to get them (the community youth) to open up. Being an ex-gang enforcer and one that has lived a life in shoot outs, she knows what its like to be a youth in these communities that are plagued by violence. Cobe Williams, scarred by his father’s murder, began a downwind spiral at the age of twelve. After being in and out of jail numerous times, Cobe decided to turn his life around with the help of his family. In the documentary we see that Cobe, with his humor and general good nature, “knows how to get in, he knows the language – what to say, when to say it.” Cobe too has big time credibility with the gang members because of his past, which allows him to easily insert himself within the conflict in order to resolve it. Last, but not least is Eddie Bocanegra, who is still daunted by the murder he committed at the age of seventeen. For him, his work with Ceasefire as a Violence Interrupter is a repentance for his past actions. Playing on his strength in art, Eddie is able to and concerned with spending majority of his time with young children affected by the aftermaths of violence.  He teaches the children art, warns them of the trauma experienced by those who have come face to face with violence, and makes an effort to keep children off the streets and get them the support they need.

Throughout the documentary, the viewer is able to look into Ceasefire meetings and the conflicts that take place within the communities. Each Violence Interrupter has a past of their own, and each uses their history and knowledge of the streets to get closer to their goal, which is to “ stop the killing, and save a life.”


One of the first scenes we see is of a conflict-taking place right in front of the Ceasefire building. Amina Matthew quickly interrupts the conflict and has both groups separate.  What is profound is that even a five-year-old girl was shouting profanities and getting involved in a conflict that had nothing to do with her. Later, Amina talks to some of the youth and is able to get them to open up through different forms of communication, one form being laughter. Amina explains, “If you get them to laugh at themselves- find that soft side, not their weak side, then you ride on that.”

In these streets the youth have been brought up with the notion that “you have to stand up no matter what happens… death before dishonor.” They have been taught violence, as violence is a learned behavior. One youth justifies, “If you don’t do it, they’re going to do it to you, you go hard or it’s your life.” They say all odds are against them, they have been brought up this way, they want to fight, and that history is up against them.

One scene in the documentary that was very overwhelming for me was a still shot of a wall of names, names of all who had been killed, murdered, and shot, and in one spot someone had written, “ I am next…” This shows how deep the youths mentality about violence is, and that they think they are stuck in it, when in reality in order to break out of it they have to find change within themselves and their peers. However, in a sense they find an honor in getting killed. They want to be known that they didn’t step down, that they fought and died, and that they know that when they die, they’ll get all the hype, both from the community and the media, that they have made normal around such drastic deaths.

Tio explains in the documentary that “Once media goes back to wherever they came from, we have to step up to the plate and make something happen up over there.” He is aware that a lot of the violence isn’t gang violence, its interpersonal conflict that deals with respect and disrespect, not being accepted in an overall society where a lot of people are ostracized, and so they try to dominate their societies. Their actions go from “zero to rage in thirty seconds” and they act out because of something that upset them earlier in their day.  With this kind of anger and violence, Tio explains that they cannot mediate the conflict without full confrontation. As the documentary comes to a close, Tio explains that African American and Latino communities have been beaten for so long with poor schools, lack of jobs, hopelessness, and despair that it is “hard for people to stick with peace if they don’t have a stick that they can hold on to.”


Although this documentary looked at the violence in Chicago communities as a whole, it also focused on specific youth whom Aminah, Cobe, and Eddie personally intervened with; Capyrsha Anderson, Lil Mikey, Flamo, Vanessa Villalba, and Kenneth. Along with these young adults, Ceasefire was able to prevent numerous outburst of violence to occur in their communities.   Its impact was beyond substantial. These Violence Interrupters were right there with each act of violence from the beginning to the end, and used their knowledge and insightfulness to the best of their ability to reduce the tension of the conflicts. Each young adult the Violence Interrupters assisted have taken a full 360 in changing their lives, sometimes all one angry person needs is someone right there beside them to show them the right path. 

Watching this documentary made me realize that these communities have been “brain –washed” into believing that violence is the only way to solve a conflict.  However, when they have member of Violence Interrupters come in and show them alternative options, it opens up a number of other possibilities for them, with a less drastic cost that wont end up affecting them for the rest of their lives.

I could definitely see myself incorporating this type of intervention and peace education into my practice. It is always useful to have those who are knowledgeable of a conflict come in and help resolve a conflict. What I liked the most was that each Violence Interrupter had a violent past of their own which they rid themselves of, and they knew exactly what was going on in the minds of the youth. Because of their insightfulness, they were able to assist the community and individual youths to a level of nonviolence.


Stakeholders that I believe will be able to benefit from my post are anyone who lives in a community that violence plays a big role in. For older community members, this type of intervention and peace education would assist their communities to a level of nonviolence for the youth. 

Nowruz Mubarak! Peace Education in Afghanistan.

Nowruz Mubarak! (Happy Persian New Year)

This past week was the Persian New Year. Nowruz literally meaning “a new day,” is an ancient international festival celebrating both the arrival of spring and the beginning of the New Year for those who celebrate it.  It brings with it the season of blossoming and renewal, happiness, celebration, traditions, and reminds us of our rich and vibrant culture. Afghans, Azeris, Georgians, Iraqis, Kazakhs, Kurds, Persians, Russians, Tajiks, Tatars, Uzbeks, and Ukrainians and other people of the West, Central Asia and the Caucasus celebrate Nowruz.

Today, numerous nations, peoples and tribes welcome it as an occasion for reaching out not only to family and friends, but to the less privileged in their midst – it is truly a day for all humanity. Being a part of the Afghan youth, I have a keen interest in the youth of those back home. It is the youth of a nation that will determine its future, I believe as a global community we should be invested in the lives of Afghani youths so to produce a better livelihood for the people in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has had a negative effect on Afghan children, who have been exposed to extreme levels of violence and often see aggression as the primary means to resolve conflict. It should be in the best interest of the international community to improve the lives of children in Afghanistan, starting with equipping them with a proper education, especially peace education, to help them improve their livelihoods. Hence, I decided to write my blog of some of the organizations and projects I have heard about that promote peace education in Afghanistan and help those who are less fortunate.


Skateistan is a Kabul-based Afghan NGO, which is “non-political, independent, and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds.”

Skateistan uses skateboarding, as a tool for empowerment in places skateboarding hasn’t existed before. It gives young people a voice and local people agency to shape projects according to their needs.

I first heard of Skateistan through social media. A friend had posted a video of Skateistan efforts in Afghanistan and it blew me away. It was an empowering video that showed how such a simple thing as skateboarding, which is so common to many youths around where I live, brought a smile to young girls and boys faces. It gave them an escape from the chaos that was occurring around them, and I was so happy to see these children actually be kids for just a few minutes.

Skateboarding in Afghanistan

Skateistan started in 2007 when two Australian skateboarders dropped their boards in Kabul. Soon enough, they were surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages who wanted to learn how to skate. Stretching out the three boards they had brought with them, they developed a small skate school.

A group of young Afghans around the age of 18 to 22 became naturals at skateboarding, sharing the three boards and making it a popular sport amongst the youth. The founders’ success with their first students prompted them to think bigger. They brought more boards back to Kabul and established an indoor skateboarding venue allowing them to teach many more youth, and also be able to provide older girls with a private facility to continue skateboarding. On October 29, 2009, Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skate park and educational facility on 5428 square meters of land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Skateistan has emerged as Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school, and is dedicated to teaching both male and female students. It aims to build indoor and outdoor skateboarding facilities in which youth can come together to skateboard: “here, they forge bonds that transcend social barriers. Here, they’re enabled to affect change on issues that are important to them.”

How is this important to peace education?

This is important to peace education because it teaches students a new way of interacting with one another, teaching one another, and trusting one another. It gives them a safe haven in a land that has been tormented for years. It allows them to focus their energy on something positive and  something that makes them happy.

The Afghan Education Peace Foundation

The Afghan Education Peace Foundation, (AEPF) a New York City based NGO, seeks to strengthen the security of the United States by rebuilding the economic and social infrastructure of Afghanistan. AEPF sponsors the education of Afghanistan’s best and brightest students in American high schools, community colleges and universities who will return to Afghanistan to contribute their new skills to the reconstruction. A stable and prosperous Afghanistan is key to American national security.

What Afghan Education Peace Foundation Plans to Envision in the coming years…

v Eliminating ideological extremism and acts of terrorism

v Reinforcing U.S. national security by ensuring the political, social and economic stability of Afghanistan and the region

v Equipping Afghan students with the skills they need to contribute to the reconstruction

v Creating the future business and political leaders of Afghanistan

v Promoting gender equality in education and the role of women in Afghanistan’s future

v Broadening the global view of Afghan students and dispelling myths about the West and Westerners

v Broadening American students’ perception of Afghanistan and its people

v Building, nurturing and enhancing cross cultural dialogue between the United States and Afghanistan

v Promoting Afghanistan’s economic prosperity, a higher quality of life, and greater connectedness with the global economy

Advancing Peace Education in Afghanistan

 The United State Institute of Peace (USIP) Grant Program has supported Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) to administer a peace education program at seven middle schools in Samangan Province in northern Afghanistan. The program has been able to educated a total of 2,800 male and female students, trained 315 teachers, and delivered a comprehensive community approach to peace education using performance metrics and paired comparison data to promote long-term impact and project sustainability.

The results of such an effort have been tremendous. The average number of observable conflicts, such as fighting, harassment, and bullying, between students has decreased from 3,457 per month to 345 per month, a 93 percent reduction. Additionally, the average number of observed potential conflicts resolved peacefully between students increased from 100 per month to 2,960 per month. Furthermore, the number of teachers observed consistently modeling peace education behaviors increased by 95 percent. While the immediate effects of training are evident in how children behave in school, the Institute is investing in behavioral change that improves the odds that Afghan youth will apply non-violent strategies to resolve conflicts over the longer term, ultimately contributing to a more peaceful society.

Peace education has wide-ranging impacts across the local community, particularly on the parents of participating students. Seven hundred and fifty parents attended a training session to learn the tenets of peace education and how to implement these values at home, providing students a comprehensive learning environment and a community support structure.

To address long-term sustainability, HTAC also began developing a Peace Education Model that identifies key characteristics and features for the expansion of peace education across Afghanistan. HTAC’s important and diligent work has earned them the support of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education, which will become an integral partner in future endeavors.



The Afghan Education Peace Foundation:

Peace Education in Afghanistan: