A Peace of the Action

Look out, Cherry Hills: The world's coming to Denver.

So back in that unheated loft, wearing coats and long underwear, they dialed Capetown information. They finally reached Tutu, who invited them to South Africa. They scrounged up more airfare and kept calling. "We had no idea how impossible this was," Engle says. "This is the only organization in the whole world where the Nobel Laureates work together. We didn't know it. When we approached them about working with youth, they all said they'd wanted to. They're now our board of directors."

The first PeaceJam event was held in March 1996 at Regis College, then PeaceJam's home base. Betty Williams, who shared the 1976 Nobel Peace Price with Mairead Corrigan Maguire, offered the keynote address. Since that initial gathering, there have been 102 more PeaceJam conferences, during which over 250,000 teenagers have learned about, and from, a dozen Nobel Prize winners. The Nobels have partied in that northwest Denver loft, and on the back patio of the Arvada house -- home of the town's first mayor -- where PeaceJam moved a few years ago. (The loft has since been subdivided into five pricey "lofts.") And they've all signed a commemorative snowboard for Suvanjieff: "You're actually a nice guy," wrote Tutu.

The actually nice guy and Engle are heading to Houston this weekend for the 104th PeaceJam conference, which features Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Argentina. After that conference, just as after all the other PeaceJam conferences, young participants will return home and work for change in their communities. PeaceJam vets have gone on to create teen centers, violence-prevention programs and AIDS-prevention projects, and have even run the PeaceJam office. That's where Jes Ward, "Jes the Jedi," rides herd on a staff of nine -- ten years after she attended her first PeaceJam conference as a troubled fourteen-year-old and listened to Desmond Tutu. "He spoke to us from the heart and addressed us as those who held the future in our hands," she remembers.

Ten months from now, the future arrives in Denver, when the tenth-anniversary party for PeaceJam -- slated to be broadcast around the world -- kicks off a ten-year campaign for global peace. "It's the largest gathering of Nobel Peace Laureates in the USA ever -- and for our little educational group in Denver," Engle says. "Both Ivan and I are from very poor families; we're factory-worker kids. That somehow we wound up in the role of putting this together is crazy. The most exciting thing to teenagers is you don't have to be perfect to do something good."

"We're completely flawed people," Suvanjieff says. "If someone doesn't think God has a sense of humor, I cite our case."

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