We sat down with Tacoma Y Member Kwabi to discuss his mission, vision, and how he is on a quest for peace.
If you live around Tacoma, you may have seen a blue Mitsubishi van, with the words THE PEACE BUS painted along the side, rumbling around downtown and the surrounding areas. You might even see someone throw him a peace sign or wave, as Kwabi Amoah-Forson, the owner of The Peace Bus, is a magnet for positive interactions between strangers. You can often find Kwabi at the University YMCA Student Center making videos about – you guessed it – peace.
We met with Kwabi at our downtown Y to discuss his mission, vision, and how he chose to involve the Y in his quest for peace.
YMCA: How did The Peace Bus get started?
Kwabi: I was in grad school in 2017 and studying business. As we all know, going to school is a good thing, right? But I was lost. I was feeling unfulfilled. I needed to do something that we often don't do as young people today, reach out to an elder for guidance. So, I reached out to an old academic professor of mine who is named Peter Bacho. I sat in his office and said, “Dr. Bacho, I’m really struggling. What do I do to find fulfillment?”
He said, “Well, you could do many things - you're a capable young man. You can be a lawyer, doctor, whatever you want to do, but you need to stop asking yourself, ‘What do you want to do?’ and ask yourself, ‘Who do you want to be?’.” After that meeting, I sat back, took a weekend to myself, and thought: who am I? What are the principles that I want to embody? Who am I at my core?
I thought out of all the things in the world, the thing I love most is seeing different people from different walks of life, races, colors, and creeds coming together for a positive cause. I don't think there is anything more beautiful than that. I thought - that's peace, in a form. You can get inner peace from a sense of understanding of self. Interpersonal peace can come from connecting with others and showing respect, love, and consideration. I came to the conclusion: I want to start promoting peace.
Kwabi: I was inspired by Brian Haw. He is a London peace campaigner, and while there, he camped outside of Parliament Square, where they do all the nation’s litigation and things like that. He held a peace vigil with people from all over the world. He would talk about how we're all unified based on our humanity, and I fell in love with his concept. I thought, if Brian can be out there for 11 years, the least I can do is get some posters and go to Wright Park in Tacoma on Saturdays. So, I did! I got some peace posters, and I sat right in the park.
People would ask, “What are you selling?” and I would tell them, “I'm not selling anything. I just want to talk to you about peace.” Then they would ask, “Is this religious?” and I would say, “No, I'm just curious about what peace means to you.”
After a while, people started getting interested in it. One older man told me, "We talked about peace and had a good conversation; I will bring my wife next time.” A few weeks later, their kids came with them. Some time went by, and folks started counting on it - every Saturday, this "peace guy" will be at the park.
I did that for a while; then, I started traveling with my peace posters. I traveled throughout Tacoma, then moved on to Portland, Vancouver, B.C., and San Francisco. My friend was stationed in the Netherlands, so I took my posters and traveled throughout Europe.
Kwabi: When I returned to Tacoma, I decided I needed a van. I was looking for something "weird and wonky" to stand out. I wanted people to look at it and think of something... I wanted them to think of peace. I bought this egg-shaped van on Vashon Island, painted it blue, and drove around town. I tried to put peace into action, and that is where my work providing humanitarian aid began. I delivered socks and blankets to people in need. I went all over, even to far-off places, with The Peace Bus. In 2020, when the pandemic started, I delivered breakfast cereal to kids and families in need every day from March to July. All the parents had to do was text me their address or wherever they wanted to meet me, and I would deliver breakfast cereal to them.
I had to do something! It was wild, and there was a lot of ambiguity about COVID at that time. I learned a lot about the Tacoma community and how food insecurity wasn’t necessarily only in one area of the city. I would go to one somewhat affluent area, but they still needed cereal. Food insecurity is a big problem in our communities, and it affects us all.
YMCA: How did the Y get involved?
Kwabi: I grew up in the YMCA. My family participated in Fit for Fun, and I learned how to swim at the Lakewood Y. I've always been a part of the YMCA family. When COVID happened, everything shut down, I thought, "Yo, I gotta figure out how to exercise." I had to figure out how to keep my body healthy because, as a wise man said, health is wealth, and I want to be wealthy. I had a jump rope, and I started skipping and jumping outside, keeping myself healthy and ensuring that my body was in the best condition it could be for the time being.
Kwabi: When the YMCA opened again, I was right back at it - but I had something new with me. It wasn't just about bodybuilding and lifting weights anymore; I had my trusty jump rope! So, I began filming my workouts with the jump rope, and I would have a message of peace, motivation, and upliftment with whoever was on the other side of the lens. I called these Jump Rope Moment Videos, and I found them extremely fulfilling. I felt that the theme, the YMCA's mantra, was directly in line with my message. The message was simple, clear and concise: peace is the most important thing. So why don't we talk about it more? How do we uplift our neighbor? How do we show love and respect towards our neighbor?
After a while, I segued into doing my workouts and again talked about upliftment, motivation, and peace. I even took it to rock climbing, and now once a week, I make a video trying to uplift our community and figure out how we can come together as one. I feel I am embodying much of what the YMCA generally stands for.
Kwabi: The YMCA is beautiful, and I'll tell you why. To me, a big part of peace is seeing different people from different walks of life, races, colors, and creeds coming together. Every time I walk into the Y, I see that. I see other races and colors and genders, people coming together to do something impactful that's healthy for themselves. I think that if the world could be a little bit more like the YMCA, we would be in a better place.