By Naomi Yakawich
October 26, BILLINGS— Montana leaders convened for the 5th Annual Global Peace Forum conducted under the theme, “Community-Driven Peacebuilding: Cultivating Social Cohesion.” Representatives from local and state government stood together with directors of NGOs, faith communities, and stakeholders in the newly launched Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Cross-Community Engagement pilot project in Billings.
Gail Hambleton, GPF Senior Program Specialist of Interreligious and Community Peacebuilding, provided a background on a CCE project conducted in New Jersey as a model for Billings. The Jersey City program brought together Latino and African-American youth, working with local law enforcement, faith and community leaders, and NGOs to temper local tension between people of different races and backgrounds. CCE in Montana will aim to foster similar social cohesion between native and non-native community members throughout a series of assemblies and activities in 2020. "The goal is to deepen relationships and to see what can be done together going forward," said Ms. Hambleton. "Who knows? It can be the beginning of many wonderful things."
An estimated 80 leaders participated in the annual forum, which commenced with messages of support from Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines as well as Congressman Gregory Gianforte. Speakers included City Council members, the County Commissioner, and respected Native leaders like Ada Bends of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribal Nation.
“The largest tree begins as the smallest seed. Similarly, when even a few individuals or a single community is united in a common purpose it can accomplish great things that benefit many others,” said Mayor Bill Cole. He offered his full support following the introduction of the project saying,
I am confident that the Global Peace Foundation and each organization and citizen represented here will strive to find common ground, cultivate social cohesion, and extend a hand to help each other when needed. This pilot project of cross-community engagement has great potential. Bringing young semiprofessionals together in an environment that emphasizes respect and dialogue will certainly result in strong friendships and lasting appreciation of each other’s diverse cultural background.
"Bringing different cultures together, sometimes it takes events like this here what we're having," said Mike Yakawich, GPF Northwest Regional Director. "Bringing people from the community together. Kind of facilitating goodwill, facilitating peacebuilding, facilitating understanding each other's culture and each other's heritage."