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Metropolitan Peace Academy virtually celebrates its newest graduates

The “1, 2, 3, BOOM!” was virtual, but the celebration was real.

The fifth cohort of the Metropolitan Peace Academy, as well as the first cohort of Case Managers, graduated on June 17 after working hard to complete an 18-week, 144-hour curriculum designed to professionalize the field of street outreach.

The cohort held a watch party for the graduation ceremony – a video shown via YouTube – and a reception over Zoom, where they were joined by family, friends, and supporters.

View the graduation ceremony:

While this cohort began, like previous cohorts, meeting at Kennedy-King College, the Peace Academy adapted in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; instead of meeting in person twice a week, they met over Zoom four times per week.

Vanessa DeReef, Director of Training and the emcee of the graduation ceremony, praised the 35 graduates’ resilience in the face of these changes.

“No one could have predicted in January what we would face over the next 18 weeks in our world, in our nation, throughout our city, and in our communities,” she shared.

“In the face of two pandemics, our city’s street outreach community continue to prove why they are the value-add in this work.  During the shelter in-place our cohorts worked tirelessly to stop the spread of the virus known as COVID-19, as well as, the virus we know as violence.”

Vanessa also paid tribute to worldwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, and shared the network of the Peace Academy is “a microcosm of unified voices, working together to counter the narrative that has plagued our city and our communities for far too long.” She shares, “the vulnerability displayed and unity established among our MPA graduates is an illustration of Black and Brown cooperation and collaboration that sets an example for all of Chicago.”

Several of the gradates shared what that community and collaboration feels like, in heartfelt reflections on their experience in the Peace Academy.

“Everybody I met, everybody wants me to do good. It pushes me,” shared Cierra McGee of ALSO.

“Even though I’ve been through a lot and I know a lot, I realized from CP4P that I had a lot more to learn,” shared Imad Saadeh of SWOP. “I constantly think about [my comrades]. It was a safe space, a space where I learned a whole lot, and I feel like my arms have been stretched and touch every side of the city of Chicago.”

Thank you to all those who shared their voices:

  • Ceirra McGee, ALSO (Alliance of Local Service Organizations)
  • Donnell Gardner, Chicago CRED
  • Carolyn Freeman, Project HOOD
  • Imad Saadeh, SWOP (Southwest Organizing Project)
  • Samuel Goodman, INVC (Institute for Nonviolence Chicago)
  • Robert Jefferson, Breakthrough

Vanessa shed light on the personal and professional growth of even more members of the cohort by honoring outstanding graduates with special awards: Professionalism, Perfect Attendance, The Voice Is Yours, Lean Into Your Discomfort, Most Improved, and Resilience.

In the Zoom reception, graduates and their supporters – including Dr. Troy Harden, who helped develop the Peace Academy curriculum – celebrated together, and congratulated one another on the amount of growth, authenticity, and commitment each person contributed to elevating the whole of Cohort Five.

Congratulations to all our graduates!

Presenting Cohort Five: 

Najm Anderson
Jelani Bennet
Travaris Brown
Torrence Cooks
Darrell Dacres
Mauricio Diaz
Carolyn Freeman
Sean Fuller
Darnell Gardner
Deion Geiger
Pamela Givens
Samuel Goodman
Tyree Head
Ramon Hooks
Robert Jefferson
Wilbert King
Pedro Lopez
Shronda McAtee
Cierra McGee
Marcus Mitchell
Marva Modeliste
Jeremiah Nelson
Eric Rice
Imad Saadeh
Luis Saucedo
Nelson Torres
Andre Williams
Carlos Wilson
Tony Woods

Case Manager Cohort One:

Linnette Acosta
Jeremiah Brown
Latasha Henry
Tiara Lee
Priscilla Simes
Michael Tafolla