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Matthew Kaplan headshotMatthew K., 17, Arizona

After seeing his brother bullied in fifth grade, Matthew saw his brother’s confidence dwindle as he withdrew himself. Matthew wanted to help his brothers and others who were being bullied. To him, it seemed that bullies are created in middle school; they were decent kids who were not aware of the harm they are causing. Matthew saw this as an opportunity to reserve the connotation of peer pressure; as he says, “I began thinking that this peer pressure could be reversed, so that students would challenge each other to support rather than discourage one another, if only they could understand each other's experience.” He created the Be “Open to New Experiences” Project (ONE)—a community- building, bullying prevention program for middle school students to harness the power of positive peer pressure. The Be ONE Project is a four-hour session that consists of interactive activities and guided discussion amongst peers that aims to foster community and empathy. Throughout each session, a sense of community and respect is created for each other. Now, with the help from his community, Be ONE project has been able to expand itself and travel to various places to promote its cause.

I began thinking that this peer pressure could be reversed, so that students would challenge each other to support rather than discourage one another, if only they could understand each other's experience.

 

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2015 peace first prize winners

Brennan

brennan projectBrennan Lewis, 18, Apex, NC

Growing up a member of the LGBTQ community in North Carolina, Brennan saw firsthand the difficulties and feelings of isolation that LGBTQ youth can endure in a heteronormative environment. And while Brennan was very fortunate to have a loving support system in their family and friends, they saw others who weren’t as lucky. So with a strong sense of compassion, Brennan and a friend took action and courageously created QueerNC.

Grace

grace projectGrace Callwood, 10, Abingdon, MD

Grace is a cancer survivor who learned, through giving away clothing that didn’t fit her post-treatment, that anyone and everyone can help brighten the day of their neighbor. The girls who received Grace’s donation had just moved into a homeless housing complex and were thrilled to be getting new clothes for school. After hearing what a difference her donation made in their day, Grace wanted to help other children who were going through tough times.

Jasmine

jasmine projectJasmine Babers, 19, Rock Island, IL

After watching her best friend and sister endure bullying and witnessing the devastating effects that it can have on them, Jasmine decided it was time someone created an outlet to promote compassion and tolerance among young women.

Xiuhtezcatl

xiuhtezcatl project 2Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 15, Boulder, CO

Growing up, Xiuhtezcatl’s father emphasized his obligation to taking care of the land – a privilege and responsibility that, in a world ravaged by climate change, he does not take lightly. He has been on the front lines of the fight for the environment since he was four, attending and leading rallies and summits, always willing to confront adult leaders for the current climate crisis we see today.

Yasmine

yasminearringtonactionphototwoYasmine Arrington, 22, Washington D.C.

2.7 million young people in the US have an incarcerated parent, and statistics show that they are more likely to drop out of high school and go to jail themselves because of it. Yasmine is one of those 2.7 million; she has experienced firsthand the financial and emotional burdens, and the marginalization that a family goes through as a result. And through building a meaningful relationship with her incarcerated parent, by forgiving him, she was motivated to do something to support her peers and help them find their own peace of mind and end this cycle of incarceration.