This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.
Brian Sullivan, the current President of Kids4Peace International, was born in White Plains, NY, but moved down to Georgia early in his life. After finishing his degree as an Art major at the University of Georgia, studying Printmaking, Sullivan decided to go to seminary and was ordained an Episcopal Priest in 1997. While working with youth at St. Anne’s, Sullivan worked with two members of his congregation who met Henry Carse in 2003, the founder of Kids4Peace, with whom started the Atlanta chapter of the organization. Later, Sullivan moved to North Carolina, where is started the North Carolina chapter of Kids4Peace.
From a young age, Sullivan understood the importance of mutual respect and dialogue between people from different backgrounds, and hoped to reduce the conflict through a program that evoked these ideals. “I’ve always known that it is important for people who are different to get along. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the extreme version of what happens when people get too far entrenched in their own group.”
From his work with youth, Sullivan understood early on that kids are the key to changing the future. “I think kids have a way of teaching adults how to do things differently.” After working closely with Israeli, Palestinian, and American children in the Atlanta chapter, Sullivan realized not only how complex and multifaceted the conflict truly is, but also the strong impact Kids4Peace leaves on its participants. “When I met the kids for the first time and started to understand the tip of the iceberg of the conflict, I knew that this program has a chance of making a big difference.”
For Sullivan, the impact of Kids4Peace derives from its influence on the lives of the children participating in the program. Sullivan believes that once the youth from both the Palestinian and Israeli side communicate, interact, and care for one another, this respect and amity will also transfer to the parents. “On the surface, Kids4Peace looks like a really cute summer camp. But that’s only the first year of the program. For every one child involved with the program, there are five or six adults who are also involved. The kids are learning skills to prevent violence and to understand who they are on a deeper level, and they bring these skills back home with them. This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.”
For Sullivan, the commitment to expand Kids4Peace came from getting to know the participants of the program. After working with Palestinian, Israeli, and American youth from differing religious backgrounds, Sullivan saw the importance of faith as a uniting factor for the different groups, one which will ultimately bring mutual respect and dialogue for all sides.
“Kids4Peace is a faith-based program. A lot of the different movements in the world that have made a difference, such as the civil rights movement, ending of apartheid, or Gandhi’s influence in India, were led by faith leaders.
Faith as a tool allows children to really focus on who they are. I think the most important part of Kids4Peace is that we are a program that tries very hard to get kids to be who they are, to grow up and understand who they are, and to learn what it means to be Jewish, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, or Arab.”
For Sullivan, the most meaningful and inspiring part of Kids4Peace is the opening of hearts of the participants of the program. Sullivan shares two stories that inspire him to expand Kids4Peace, and that “iconic” to the message of the program:
“One of the first stories that inspired me was when the kids from the Atlanta chapter from 2003 went home and their parents, one Palestinian, one Israeli, had dinner together at each other’s houses. Then, the two families decided they wanted to go to the Western Wall to pray. A guard stopped the father and asked him what they were doing there. The father responded, ‘Well, they just want to go to the Wall.’ The guard did not understand how that was possible, that a Palestinian and an Israeli kid wanted to do this together. When the guard was not looking, the kids snuck around him and went and prayed in front of the Wall together.”
“One of the most recent stories that inspired me is the story of a woman and a young Palestinian coming through a check point. When they reached the checkpoint, the Israeli soldier treated the woman with respect, and asked for her name. The woman wanted to know who his parents were, how he was brought up to, and to understand why he was acting the way he was. The soldier said he was acting this way not because of his parents, but because of a program called Kids4Peace. The woman also participated in the program. That to me is the icon of what we’re trying to do, for example, having soldiers who are doing their jobs, defending their nation, but who are doing it with respect and who understand who they are.”