Fish Stark

Yalies looking to generate social change this year can tap into $1 million in resources from Peace First.

This year, Peace First — a global nonprofit that aims to support young people with developing social justice projects — is launching the second edition of the Peace First Challenge, a campaign designed to encourage young people to pursue advocacy. The organization has committed to devoting $1 million — in $250 mini-grants, in-kind mentorship, conferences and digital resources — to empowering young project leaders.

“We believe that young people are leaders. We’ve seen that for generations, and we especially see it now, from Black Lives Matter to all the youth activism going around Parkland,” said Fish Stark ’17, a fellow-in-residence at Peace First and a former candidate for Ward 1 alder. “For 25 years, we’ve believed in young people as peacemakers. What we’ve done is we’ve built incomparable infrastructure to support these peacemakers.”

Several student groups at Yale have taken advantage of the services and funding offered by Peace First, including Refugee and Immigrant Student Education, formerly known as Students of Salaam. Refugee and Immigrant Student Education offers educational resources to refugees and immigrants in New Haven through programs in five local public schools, as well as in-home tutoring.

After enrolling in the Peace First Challenge over winter break, the organization has been working closely with Peace First mentors on refining its mission and programs. On Friday, the group is hosting a spoken-word festival — an event that advisors from Peace First helped plan.

“A lot of the initial things gained out of Peace First Challenge were through the process of completing the Challenge application, because it asks you to lay out specific goals you have on a weekly basis and define your mission in a multitude of different ways,” said Fatima Chughpai ’19, an ambassador at Refugee and Immigrant Student Education. “It allowed me to better understand our goals and where we want to go from here. Part of that is also what led to the name change, realizing that the name may not have fit that well.”

A $250 seed grant from Peace First has also been instrumental to the organization’s work; without the grant, the group would not be able to finance and easily access transportation throughout the city, Chughpai said. Peace First receives its funding from individual donors, as well as corporate and family foundations, such as the Carnegie Corporation and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

Seed grants are especially important for groups concerned with social work, as opposed to generating financial gains, according to Gabriel Malek ’20, co-chair of the board of the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund.

“For any project, there is an activation energy, so to speak, in terms of capital. You need a certain amount of money to get a project off the ground, and I think in a lot of instances when students are focusing on doing socially responsible work or social justice work, those projects might not entail making financial gains or returns,” Malek said. “So I think it’s necessary to have a space on campus to support student projects that are looking just to create social good and not necessarily to create financial returns.”

Beyond Refugee and Immigrant Student Education, Peace First has also supported a variety of projects focused on different issues, including gun violence, racial justice and transgender rights. In New Haven, the nonprofit has partnered with Go South, a Yale summer program that encourages students to work in the Southern United States, as opposed to conventionally popular locations, like the Bay Area and the Northeast. According to Stark, all young people are welcome to use the Peace First platform, as long as their projects are grounded in “compassion, collaboration and courage.”

Peace First has also partnered with the Women’s March to start Women’s March Youth Empower, an initiative designed to assist young people in Women’s March chapters across the country. In the near future, Stark anticipates helping participants organize marches and rallies through Peace First in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“We have believed really wholeheartedly that we need to listen to young people’s ideas, that we need to do more than listen, that we need to invest in their ideas,” Stark said. “If we invest in their leadership, they can change in the world. We weren’t created in response to Parkland, but I like to think that we were built to support young activists like those in Parkland and well beyond.”

Historically, Peace First has worked with tens of thousands of young people by reaching out to schools. After shifting recently to a digital platform, Peace First has about 500 active participants, who receive guidance and planning resources online, Stark said.

Stark added that one of the advantages of Peace First’s digital approach is access to an online community; after partnering with Peace First, youth activists join a network of other project leaders from around the world. Beyond sharing ideas with their peers, participants can also connect with young social entrepreneurs, trained staff and digital mentors for step-by-step mentorship.

Peace First was founded as a student-run program at Harvard.

Ruiyan Wang |