“We can really save people, we can really save kids, we can really restore community in our communities if we empower [street outreach workers].”
- Vanessa DeReef, Director of Training, Metropolitan Peace Academy


“Because we establish community, it’s a safe space to ask and critique”

Vanessa DeReef,
Director of Training, Metropolitan Peace Academy

“It’s about building people,” says Vanessa Dereef, Training Manager of the Metropolitan Peace Academy. “I want you to learn something about yourself.”

Learning is at the heart of the Metropolitan Peace Academy, where Vanessa helps build her cohort members, both as street outreach workers and as future facilitators. “Because we establish community, it’s a safe space to ask and critique,” Vanessa says, and that’s how the Peace Academy builds its extensive and consistently evolving curriculum – by learning from each cohort.

Take Nicole Vaughn, founder of We R Englewood and a graduate from Cohort Three, who will now help facilitate Cohort Four. “[Nicole] has her own organization, so she was already doing the work,” Vanessa says, “so you have that type of expertise in the room, then you have others who are very new to the work. So can you imagine the type of collaboration and sharing within that community?”



»“Imagine if it was just me and Dr. Harden [who co-wrote the curriculum] at the table and we’re trying to come up with what’s next for the Academy,” Vanessa says, of involving cohort members in developing the Peace Academy. “We’d miss all those diverse perspectives.”

» “To me it was natural to climb up. By being on the forefront of this work, I want a voice in how this work should go.” Rodney Phillips, a graduate from Cohort One and a facilitator for Cohort Two, now shapes the cohorts’ experiences as Cohort Manager for the Peace Academy. “Being a facilitator, you have to build confidence, and that’s what [Vanessa] has done with me,” he says. “How do you build a person’s confidence? You keep encouraging them and keep throwing them out there.”

» “I want to lead a session on restorative justice.” Nicole especially responded to the restorative justice session as a member of Cohort Three, but as a facilitator for Cohort Four, she plans to build on what she learned. “Let’s see it in action, or even contribute,” Nicole says. “It’s not just the meaning of it, but how can we use it? How can we come up with something creative, so that people can think, ‘Oh, I didn’t see it that way.’”


»“If we’re not in the room, we can’t complain later when there’s decisions being made that affect our communities and affect us, because we’re not stepping up to the plate, trying to grow into these positions so we can help make decisions,” says Jorge of the importance of his formal education. “I’m in a room with Executive Directors that don’t have the experience I’ve been through. [My degree] created a space for me; I’m able to be in those rooms and help balance the conversation.”

»“I have to step up and do it first,” Jorge explains. “I’m willing to go through these 18 weeks, show them that I did all this, and used this to benefit me for school.”

“I was willing to expose myself to learn.”

Jorge Matos,
Safe Streets Director at ALSO (Alliance of Local Service Organizations)

Jorge Matos created his own education. He formalized his own lived experiences – through incarceration, then building a career in violence prevention – into a degree through Northeastern University, and now he’s empowering others to do the same.

The Metropolitan Peace Academy, with its emphasis on professionalizing the field of street outreach, has helped Jorge start some of those conversations about education with other outreach workers, who are often reticent to expose their weaknesses in a learning environment. “When you come at them with a conversation, ‘maybe you should try to go back to school,’” he says, “they’re not so afraid because they’ve touched on it with the Peace Academy.”



Christine Escalera,
Outreach Worker at CP4P partner ALSO

Christine Escalera, a member of the Metropolitan Peace Academy’s Cohort Two, shares the importance of building relationships with outreach staff at other organizations across the city. >>



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