Launching A Revolution


The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, co-founded by social activist Heart Phoenix and Jeffrey Weisberg, is changing the way societies, near and far, repair generations of violence and conflict using one simple fundamental: relationship building.

It’s rare to meet a person named Heart. It’s also rare to meet a person whose name is such an exact and enduring representation of what she means to her community. Heart Phoenix is that person.

If you’re reading her last name and thinking, “that sounds familiar,” it’s because it is. She is the mother of actors, River, Rain, Joaquin, Liberty and Summer Phoenix. But the fame her name has brought her is secondary to the mission it now drives, the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding in Gainesville. Through the center, Heart has been able to truly immerse herself in the type of social activism she once traveled the world to seek, right here in her own home.

“I changed my name from Arlyn to Heart 30 years ago, and part of why I changed it was Heart is an anagram for Earth. But it also reminds you to constantly stay in that space. Nobody is perfect, and my name reminds me to be an example of that compassion,” Heart said.

Compassion, as she describes it, is the essence of the success of the Center for Peacebuilding. To some, peacebuilding may seem like an abstract concept that raises more questions than it does answers. Though Heart and husband Jeffrey Weisberg, with whom she founded the Center, have worked to compartmentalize what the goals of peacebuilding actually are. The lofty, often far-fetched notions that a nonprofit in Alachua County can stop a global war, or mend the ills of a generation of hatred and violence on a global scale are trimmed down to more manageable expectations of how we can achieve solutions in the community – and the solutions boil down trying to learn more about each other.

“After hundreds of years of war, we’re not any closer really to understanding each other, to doing things a different way. The default seems to be violence and anger to solve problems,” she said.

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