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AFSC at the forefront of the community mediation movement

AFSC at the forefront of the community mediation movement

Published: April 18, 2013
Paul and Scilla Wahrhaftig

Paul and Scilla Wahrhaftig 

Photo: AFSC

In the 1970s a number of social justice organizations, including AFSC’s Pretrial Justice Program in Pittsburgh, Pa., found themselves frustrated with the criminal justice system—especially discrimination in who got bail and the resulting costs to people of color.

So when a speaker at a 1973 bail reform conference in Harrisburg, Pa., introduced the idea of community mediation as an alternative way to address community conflicts and keep people out of jail, AFSC staff member Paul Wahrhaftig and other attendees immediately saw the potential for giving people the skills to solve their own problems without going through the courts.

Paul began to reach out to others around the country who were also exploring this idea. In 1976, he established a resource center focused on developing and expanding the work of mediation and conflict resolution around the United States.

When AFSC’s program was laid down in 1980, Paul went on to form the Conflict Resolution Center International, a resource center for people mediating everything from small community issues to civil wars, spreading the idea of conflict resolution and mediation around the world.

Twenty years later, in 2003, Paul’s wife Scilla Wahrhaftig became the staff person for the AFSC in Pennsylvania. She teaches and uses many of the conflict resolution skills, especially respectful listening and dialogue, in her work with AFSC Pennsylvania youth program and in the community.

The teaching and use of conflict resolution is now common practice in our communities, and a number of AFSC programs today use the skills developed by AFSC and the conflict resolvers back in the early days of the movement.

In recognition of their work, Scilla and Paul Wahrhaftig have been named Peace Makers of the Year by the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators. They will speak at the council’s annual conference on Friday, April 19.