Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 22
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
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NJ Students for Peace Conference Promoting Teen Activism at Library

Linda Arntzenius

As the Memorial Day Parade passed down Nassau Street on Saturday, members of the area's teen community focused on peace and ways of working toward it through an understanding of current events, with tips from activists on how to get involved and why.

About 80 area students, mostly from local high schools —Princeton High School, West Windsor High Schools South and North — attended the a one-day free conference titled P.E.A.C.E. (Proactive Education for Activism on Current Events) — held by New Jersey Students for Peace (NJSFP), the student affiliate of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA).

"Everything went well, and I'm really pleased with the turnout and passion of the participants," said conference organizer Mary Ann Thomas afterwards. "I think everyone learned a lot and got a lot out of the experience."

Also a member of the library's Teen Advisory Board, Ms. Thomas is president of NJ Students for Peace and an active participant in Amnesty International through its student group at Princeton High School.

Ms. Thomas, who will be attending Rutgers this fall to study for a nursing career, has been actively working to promote peace since her sophomore year.

"Through SFP and Amnesty International I've met some amazing people including today's keynote speaker, Sabina Carlson."

A graduate of West-Windsor High School North, Ms. Carlson, an upcoming sophomore at Tufts University spoke on student activism, how to get involved, and why. "She's a very inspirational person," said Ms. Thomas.

The same might be said of Ms. Thomas. According to Teen Services Librarian Susan Conlon, the conference and other teen run programs have been "truly great in bringing area kids together" and turning the spotlight on teen activism.

Saturday's conference was just one instance of teen involvement in programs at the library. "This is an example of the kids doing things on their own and to see so many teenagers come out on a holiday weekend is encouraging."

Hosted by the Princeton Public Library, the conference was designed to bring together youth from around the state for discussion, networking, and education. It took place in three library locations: the first-floor community room, second-floor conference room, and third-floor story room.

Participants viewed short films, listened to guest speakers, and attended workshops on topics ranging from "The War on Drugs and Alternative Policies," "Understanding the Darfur Genocide and the Role of Student Activists," "Nuclear Non-Proliferation," and "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World."

They discussed peace and world religions with representatives from the Princeton Jewish Center and Princeton Theological Seminary, and art and activism with Adrienne Leban, a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Training was offered in the technique of "Sustained Dialogue," which presents an approach to political problem-solving through transforming conflict-causing relationships. Teens were encouraged to start groups promoting the technique in their schools and communities.

The conference also featured a performance by African Islands United, a cultural dance group.

Ms. Conlon introduced a workshop on "Getting Started as an Activist: Resources, Tools, and Ideas," providing a "starters kit to youth who would like to take a more active role in their community and world."

A presentation about Darfur given by a representative of Human Rights Watch for Sub-Saharan Africa was attended by members of the student-run organization founded by local teen Aislinn Bauer. RADD (Raising Awareness Destination: Darfur) focuses attention on the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. The group, which meets monthly in the library, will hold a "Jam for Sudan," at the Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza on Saturday, June 9, at 1 p.m.

With over 7,400 member and supporting households and 16 chapters in central/southern New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, CEPA is the largest peace group in the region.

For more information, call (609) 924-5022, or visit

Teen Volunteers

The conference brought together many teens active as members of the library's Teen Advisory Board. Teens such as Ms. Thomas, who have made the library not just the place to be, but the place to be heard.

Ms. Thomas is quick to share the spotlight with other student group members, however. "The P.E.A.C.E. Conference wouldn't have happened without the creativity and practical skills of Anne Watanabe, or without Susan Conlon at the Princeton Public Library, or without any number of members of SFP," she said.

Ms. Thomas and Ms. Watanabe, a student attending West Windsor Plainsboro School, were among a group of local teens, several of them graduating seniors at Princeton High School like Ms. Thomas, who were commended last week by the Board of Trustees at the Princeton Public Library for their participation at Teen Volunteers.

"With your help, Princeton Public Library has become a welcoming place for teens to spend time and to do important things," said Board President Katherine McGavern.

From their involvement has come programming such as the Princeton Environmental Film Festival in January organized by Kai Marshall Otto, co-president of the PHS environmental club, which featured films and talks on global warming, renewable energy, and wilderness protection, as well as a keynote lecture by Stephen Pacala, the Princeton University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who is Director of the Princeton Environmental Institute.

PHS senior Elizabeth Perez, who organized the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (GLBTQI ) Equal Rights Film Festival that took place at the library in March, also attended Saturday's conference.

The Teen Advisory Board encourages participants in grades 6 and above to meet at the library to advise Teen Services Librarian Susan Conlon about the collection and talk about books, films, and music. Sessions provide participants with a say in library services and programs and the next session will take place on Saturday, June 9, at noon in the second floor conference room.

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