Essay on the Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism Conference
Kathleen Kanet, a director of the youth program, and I, an intern, attended a conference “Making a difference and rededicating ourselves at this sacred time of the year” on December 3rd, 2009, held by Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism of the NGO Committee for Human Rights. The reason why this organization holds this meeting every year is because a lot of religions celebrate their holidays in this time of the year.
The meeting was opened by a moderator Sister Bernadette Sullivan, Co-chair of the hosting organization. She said that this time of the year was very important for many people and many religions. And this was a great time and an opportunity for people of all faiths to make “spiritual connections” with each other for peace, human rights, social justice, and the healing of our wounded earth.
After the opening remarks, three guest speakers were introduced. Those three were Christian Branch, a student at St. Joseph’s College at Brooklyn, NY, Therese Skatun, an intern with Baha’i International Community at the UN, Sasha Simpson, a high school student graduate of “Agape-Satyagraha”, and Maria Rhoades, a program coordinator of Peace Education at On Earth Peace.
First, Christian gave his speech. Mainly he was talking about a project that he did in his school. The name of the project is the Laramie Project. The Laramie Project is a play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. He said one very interesting thing. He said that before the play, students were talking about movies, TV shows, video games, and so on. However, after the play, he noticed that people started talking about their opinions about gay and how they thought about the issue. Of course, it was a very controversial play, but it opened up discussion among students. I know that there might be some people who were shocked to see this kind of play in school, but at least this made students think and talk about the issue of homosexuality.
Next, Therese gave her speech. She is a young and very experienced woman. She is from Switzerland, studied in England, and now works in the US. She emphasized an importance of youth in general. Young people have energy and guts to do what they want to do and they are not afraid of challenges. One thing that stuck me was that young people are idealists, so they have high expectations in any issues. I thought that that was so true. Once you enter a society and start working, you become more a realist. You need to accept the reality and status quo of unfairness and injustice in this world. But young people have not experienced those yet and have high ideals. I believe that those ideals are very important to achieve peace and justice.
Finally, Maria introduced one of her students who participated her on-going program called “Agape-Satyagraha.” “Agape-Satyagraha” is a leadership training program for youth. It teaches kids skills for conflict resolution and social change based on the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and Gandhi. Sasha, who is a graduate of the program, told us that she really enjoyed the program and became to be aware that she was using the skills that she learned from the program in her everyday life almost without knowing it. She told us a story when she mediated her teacher and her student. Incredibly, Sasha is developing her own project in her own community. The project is giving kids safe place to play without worrying about troubles. One of the concerns that kids have in her community is that there is no safe place to play on the streets. There are some drug dealers, and kids do not feel safe to play. So Sasha is developing a project in which some volunteers oversee 1 or 2 blocks of their neighborhood and provide kids places to play without worrying about strangers and drug dealers. I was surprised that such a young girl who just graduated from a junior high already had been developing a program that will help her community and kids there.
After all the speeches from speakers, all the audience was divided into small groups to discuss their personal experiences in peace making and work on human rights. There were three questions to stimulate the small discussion. Questions were, “How did the speaker inspire you? Give some examples,” “Share a personal story of what moved you to make a difference,” “What have we learned from each other?” In our group, there were four people and each of us shared our own stories. I really liked the small group discussion because we could get to know each other more and have deep discussion than in a large group. After the small group discussion, we got back to a large group and shared insights and comments from the different small groups.
Overall, I really liked the meeting. It was very international and diverse. It was very inspiring. We all discussed what needs to be done to achieve peace, enhance human rights, and eradicate discrimination. I particularly liked the idea that this meeting was mainly focusing on youth, because I also believe that the youth is the engine of many changes.