Picking up the Pieces: Building a Culture of Peace

By UUA International Resources

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) has been hosting an intergenerational seminar every Spring for the past six years. The most recent seminar – “Picking Up the Pieces: Building a Culture of Peace” – brought a diverse group of more than 150 people to New York City for three days of education, planning and inspiration. UU-UNO Executive Director, Bruce Knotts, described tremendous enthusiasm leading up to the over-subscribed event with 50 more people seeking to register than could be accommodated at the venue. In response, a new venue will be found for next year’s seminar with space for twice as many participants. Featured speakers at the seminar included:
  • Prudence Bushnell, former US Ambassador to Kenya (1996-99) and Guatemala (1999-2002) and US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs (1993-1996). She spoke with passion about the 1994 Rwandan genocide and offered a first-hand account of both its origins and its lessons. Later in the day seminar participants watched an acclaimed film, Sometimes in April, which portrays Ambassador Bushnell’s attempts to prevent the violence.
  • Gillian Martin Sorensen, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General for External Relations and Senior Advisor at the United Nations Foundation. Among the messages that Ms. Sorensen brought was a call to religious organizations to the United States to provide its full dues to the United Nations - as an example to the rest of the world and to promote the UN's effectiveness. In response to a question about what the UN does, she described the hard work of the UNHCR (caring for 20 million refugees), the 17 active peacekeeping missions around the world, the essential work of UNICEF, as well as indispensible global Human Right work.
  • Keith Boykin - editor of The Daily Voice newspaper and a co-host of the BET TV talk show My Two Cents – shared a powerful retelling of his life-story and how his experiences have led him to remain committed to advocacy work and peacemaking. (Note: See a terrific article by UUA President William G. Sinkford at the Daily Voice)
  • Adam Gerhardstein – the UUA’s Legislative Assistant for International Issues – illustrated best practices for international advocacy work by presenting successful case studies.
  • An Interfaith panel on the faithful basis of “Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation” included Jeffery Huffines - UN representative for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States; Frederick Dettmer, and attorney and human rights activist with the Society of Friends (Quakers); and Reverend Eric Cherry, Director of International Resources for the UUA. Examples of effective international engagement by secular (the International Criminal Court) and faith-based organizations (Quaker Peace Teams) were highlighted, as well as the essential spiritual call that we all share to global brotherhood and sisterhood.
Throughout the seminar participants were invited to reflect upon the information that was shared within touch-groups and to prepare action plans and a resolution for use after the conference was over. All who participated were brimming with hope for the faithful work of peacemaking, and feeling prepared with new wisdom and resources to commit to peacemaking efforts. A Faithful Moment by: Adam Gerhardstein On Thursday night, the seminar participants gathered in the basement of the Community Church of New York and watched the HBO film Sometimes in April. The film is a complex narrative following two brothers from the mounting ethnic tensions in early 1994 up through the criminal tribunal and community-based truth and reconciliation efforts of the present day. Never before had I seen a movie like it. The emotional bravery that this film demands of its audience is staggering. The frightful human potential that allows for genocide was on full display, but so was the genuine resilience and love that also characterizes the human experience. At the conclusion of the film, the entire room of 150 people was completely silent. Peggy Montgomery, a board member of the UU-UNO, sat at my table. Our eyes connected, both of ours filled with tears, and we reached out and held hands. We had learned that the Rwandan genocide began in the month of April, and, as we were holding hands, Peggy choked out the words, “It is April, It is April.” There was nothing else either of us could think to say.

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