In the early 1990´s Duluth suffered a series of awful murders, all of them committed by men. The community expressed its outrage and a large group of citizens began to work on efforts to decrease the violence. In meeting after meeting the people involved were almost always women. A few men showed up, but they were always a tiny portion of those involved. This seemed backwards. Men committed the violence, but women were responsible for finding a solution.
In the fall of 1995 a group of five Duluth men decided to organize a retreat of male community leaders to discuss this problem and begin to develop a solution. They invited a diverse of group of 100 area men to discuss the problems our community, and communities in general, were experiencing with violence, men´s role in that violence and what men could do to prevent it.
Fifty-five of these community leaders responded and participated in the retreat. They included members of the clergy, businessmen, American Indians, African Americans and a host of others. The meeting ended with a commitment from the men involved to continue to discuss and act to decrease the violence in our communities. Out of these discussions grew Men as Peacemakers; an organization committed to getting men off the sidelines and involved in making peace.
How we would do this was the most difficult question. We began to look for places where involving men could have the greatest impact or leverage in making communities safer. Our first projects focused on involving men in caring and serving. We found that our elementary schools had a staff ratio of 1 man for every 8 staff and that the volunteers were 99% women. Children were not seeing male role models and men were not involved in caring for our elementary age children. This is not a surprise.
Women have been largely responsible for young children. Working with one of our inner city schools we developed an in–school mentoring program aimed directly at men. We asked them to commit an hour of their time each week to work with a boy at school. It was remarkable how difficult it was to convince men to participate. We started with 8 men, which nearly quadrupled the number of men at Grant Elementary School. The program has grown and thrived. Since then we have added other programs; a training program aimed at young men in college and high school – talking about domestic and sexual violence and civility, a storytelling project – telling stories of strong women, caring men, character and culture, and a restorative justice project – using restorative justice principles to deal with incidents at area high schools.
In the fall of 2002 the Board of Men as Peacemakers decided to expand beyond Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. We would begin to grow the number of men involved regionally and then beyond. Our vision is to have 10 new cities involved over the next two years.