In today’s peacebuilder spotlight, we get to know Toni Hawkins and Sherman Green. They both joined Pollack Peacebuilding Systems after many years in the field. Even though they have taken different paths to get here, Toni and Sherman are both passionate about their work. Toni started her career with an interest in Psychology, which she eventually left behind to pursue opportunities in Public Health Administration and Politics. She believes very strongly that everything happens for a reason and that the most important part of working in peacebuilding is listening. Toni has honed her communication skills since childhood. By watching how her parents communicated with their children, neighbors, and with each other, Toni learned to be patient with others. She also developed a desire to help people, which is ultimately what led her to peacebuilding.
Communicating to Eliminate Barriers
Sherman agrees that communication is crucial, so much so that it was his major for one of his degrees from Mississippi State University. He worked in higher education before starting his coaching career on a fulltime basis. Through his company, Strategic Directions, he helps businesses and organizations to eliminate structural barriers that prevent them from fulfilling their full potential. In addition, he provides life coaching for individuals who find themselves seeking a new direction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In peacebuilding, having the ability to understand a situation before attempting to address it is beneficial. For Toni and Sherman, this can be accomplished by being fully present and asking the right questions to all parties. The answers are often able to serve as a guide towards achieving a common goal for those involved.
Benefits of Working with PPS
In partnership with Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, Toni and Sherman use their experiences to mediate conflicts within different types of companies and to provide conflict management training for executive teams. In fact, Toni and Sherman met through one such opportunity earlier this year, when they developed a training for the National Association of Black Journalists. According to Toni, the most important aspect of this training was that they were able to facilitate the development of the organization’s Code of Civility without interfering in the process. When discussing professional challenges in peacebuilding, Sherman highlighted situations in which individuals refuse to take responsibility for their actions, until there is a “shining moment” when they become accountable, making the process more manageable for everyone. For Toni, a major challenge as a mediator is pursuing work opportunities without a legal background. The obstacle here is in the fact that attorneys tend to receive the first call when there is a need for mediation services. An added benefit of working with Pollack Peacebuilding Systems is that both Toni and Sherman are able to expand their reach and serve organizations outside of their immediate network.
Advice to Future Peacebuilders
The common message to future peacebuilders from Toni and Sherman is to take courses, read, and seek opportunities that help to develop skills in the field. Most states provide accessible training courses. Sherman advises to “assess how you absorb your own conflict in your own life.” The observation here should determine whether or not one is ready to face situations of conflict on a regular basis. He adds that “conflict can be very raw…very candid” and requires one to navigate toxic situations sometimes. Knowing how to address these experiences personally helps to understand how to do the same for organizations or individuals seeking guidance.