“Sometimes you need to have the audacity to say ‘I’m going to go out and try this and I know it’s not going to be perfect.’ But you also need to have the humility to say, ‘I’m going to learn from what I did that wasn’t perfect and make it better.’” — Fish Stark
If we aren’t teaching young people about tolerance and peace, how can we expect them to learn? This was the message Fish Stark was unable to stop hearing and thinking about after attending a conference as a teen.
Stark took action on this message and launched the Teaching Peace Initiative (TPI) to make real positive change in teens’ lives. “The Teaching Peace Initiative is training teens in high schools across the country to be ambassadors for peace and tolerance in their communities,” explains Stark.
The initiative uses a curriculum based on tolerance, nonviolent conflict resolution, and anti-bullying. According to Stark, the way that curriculum is taught to students – not by their teachers, but by their peers – is what sets the initiative apart from other programs. “We believe that if we want to stop the epidemic of bullying, kids don’t want to hear lectures from adults about how they should be behaving in a school context. What they need is interaction with peers, so we’re trying to use that to create cultures of peace in the schools we work with.”
After School spoke with Fish Stark as part of the “5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series with partner Peace First. The series includes teens who have made an incredible impact on the world as a teen and beyond.
Stark finds the openness and curiosity of young people to be an asset in making lasting positive change. “Young people are always willing to ask questions, always willing to have their minds changed, and always open to the people around them,” says Stark. These qualities and the TPI’s peer educators model help Stark and his team achieve success even when dealing with difficult and evolving issues like bullying.
Bullying today looks a lot different than it did a few decades ago, and it takes many different shapes and forms. “Bullying more often looks like social exclusion, isolation, and malicious rumor spreading,” Stark says, which is why he utilizes young people as a part of the solution. Since it began in 2011, the Teaching Peace Initiative has positively affected the lives of thousands of teens.
For other young people who want to make a change in their community, Stark advises:
- Go for it! Why wait?
- Build a team full of people who do not look or think like you.
- Get to know the problem you want to focus on deeply.
Stark strongly believes in the power Peace First’s motivation has had on him and countless other young changemakers. “What Peace First says is you have the power to change the world right now. Right now! You don’t have to wait.” Embrace that power and get started with Peace First today.
More from Fish Stark:
- “I think everyone has a passion, and they come to it almost by accident.”
- “We spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that ‘it’s not our time.”
- “These are the values and issues that are important to me. When I’m out in the world, I’m going to be putting tolerance first.”
- “(Peace First) We’re not going to just cheer you on, we’re going to give you the mentoring, the money, the tools; we’re going to help you make that difference right now.”
- “Peace First is tired of hearing young people are being told to wait.”
Read more from the 5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker Interview Series:
- Teaching Tolerance, Reducing Child Abuse with Bugs: 5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker Interview with Tiffani Alexander
- Empowering Young Women: Interview with Jasmine Babers, Love Girls Magazine Founder
- Stopping Gun Violence and Running for Office: Interview with Mary-Pat Hector
- Education to Stop Transgender Injustice: Interview with Eli Erlick
- Empathy, Diversity Training for Young People: This Teen’s Mission to Create a Better Future
- Battling Bullying with Empathy: How One Teenager is Bringing Positivity to Middle School Students
- Making NC More Supportive for LGBTQ Youth: How It’s Happening with QueerNC