Peyton Klein believed she was working to help build a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming world when she interned for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
The then-15-year-old noticed something odd one morning, though, that made her question how she was embracing those values in her personal life. Klein realized that she knew everyone’s name in one of her classes at Taylor Allderdice High School except for the girl wearing a hijab.
“This struck me specifically from my Jewish context, because I grew up in a house that preached the values of tikkun olam and repairing the world and welcoming the other, but I wasn’t actually living by those values,” she said.
Klein eventually became friends with the girl in the hijab, a refugee from Syria, and the relationship was mutually beneficial.
“I realized that I was confronting so many stereotypes that I had,” Klein said. “In turn, I was helping her with her biology homework and navigating the school system and talking with counselors.”
It was through that friendship — and the realization there were many other students for whom English was a second language who were confronting social isolation, cultural intolerance and ignorance — that drove Klein to create the Global Minds Initiative.
Initially an after-school club with 10 members, the organization has grown to include 25 chapters across the country comprising 3,600 students.
On Jan. 1, 2021, Global Minds officially merged with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, becoming part of that organization’s youth programming.
“I always looked up to the World Affairs Council and the work that they were doing,” Klein said. “We partnered with them early on, specifically with our Baldwin chapter. It’s really exciting that this partnership has evolved in the way it has.”
Klein, currently in Israel for a gap year, will remain with the organization, joining the Council’s board of directors where she will serve on the executive committee. Three other Global Minds board members will join Klein on the Council board.
Beginning last year, Council president and CEO Betty Cruz said the organization, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2021, has been going through a strategic planning process.
“It’s been about how do we lean into celebrating the work we’ve been doing with young people and going even further, really leaning into leadership,” Cruz said.
For the last 50 years, the Council has included a Global Youth Education Program, which serves Western Pennsylvania secondary schools, focusing on the foreign policy challenges that lie ahead for each generation. The programs touches thousands of students and teachers in nearly 200 schools, said Cruz.
While noting the Council has a long history of youth programming, Cruz was quick to add that “it’s not just about doing programming for people. It’s about programming with them. So, how are we programming with young people and really handing over the reins to not just amplify youth voices but have them in the driver’s seat?”
The two organizations, Cruz said, already have some synergy. For instance, both have been working on youth career development — the Council is talking to leaders from the business and global communities, while Global Minds has been working within its grassroots network, learning what young people want. The result is a much stronger program.
“Really, it’s about how we can maintain fidelity to the Global Minds program, that is now a program of the World Affairs Council, so that it keeps its ‘by youth, for youth’ roots and keeps its presence in schools and keeps growing, in our region and other markets?” Cruz said.
By combining the two organizations, and adding more youth voices and leadership, the World Affairs Council returns to its roots — gathering leaders in Pittsburgh to talk about global affairs and think about the impact made on the world, said Cruz.
The new partnership, Klein said, will give Global Minds the opportunity to reach even more students, while maintaining its current chapters, and providing youth leaders with new experiences by being part of the legacy organization.
“We will see Global Minds in even more schools, and we will have even more new ways to reach young people once we’re on the other side of all this,” Cruz said.
“I’m really excited,” Klein said, “because I think that both the World Affairs staff and board members have a lot to learn from the Global Mind students, and vice versa. So, I think it’s going to be an incredible partnership.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.