In the tumultuous days of 2016 local resident Mary Steenbergen attended a conference in New Mexico sponsored by Pace e Bene, an international organization promoting nonviolence. At the end of the day a clipboard was passed around, and participants were asked to write down what initiatives they would undertake once they returned to their communities. Mary decided to hold a peace vigil on the International Day of Peace, on the courthouse plaza. From that event a group formed calling themselves Prescott Peacebuilders.
They have held peace vigils each year on September 21, as well as a number of storytelling events. I attended one in 2018, themed All You Need is Love, on Valentine’s Day. Over 50 people came, and we all laughed, cried and sighed at the stories local folks shared about love in its many manifestations.
Mary recalls that in the early days of the Peacebuilders, “We were looking for events where people could imagine Prescott as a peaceful place and give them ideas on how to create peace in their own lives and community.” The core group, including Laurel Freeman and eventually Ali Cassidy, settled on storytelling as a means of creating connections between people.
Passionate about the transformative value of storytelling, Cassidy has led a number of storytelling events at Suze’s Prescott Center for the Arts, including the very popular Ghost Talks. “If you hear another person’s story about something that really affected them, that is a space of compassion and listening. You can connect as human beings.” The Peacebuilders have held six storytelling events since it began, with themes like nature, veterans, and the kindness of strangers. The next event will be on Sunday, April 30, 2-4pm in the Founders Room of the Prescott Public Library, with stories focusing on the power of music and live music by the lively and engaging Meg Bohrman.
People connect with the Peacebuilders through events or by visiting the group’s Facebook page (PrescottAzPeacebuilders).
When they propose sharing their stories, they are invited to two sessions ahead of the actual event, where they meet with the core group and the other presenters to practice speaking without a script (reading stories is not allowed, though writing one out and practicing with a script is helpful) and receive feedback on their presentation. Stories may not exceed ten minutes, must be based on the speaker’s own experience, and each event generally includes six to nine stories.
“When I was younger I used to go to social-justice groups and would quote other people and facts. I saw other people’s eyes just glaze over. This is not the way to communicate,” says Mary. Sharing a story based on lived experience reaches past the barriers, through the silos we live in, and connects one soul to another.
To connect and learn more about Prescott Peacebuilders, visit the Facebook page or attend a sponsored event.