Feature

The 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival, 1981

Soka Gakkai Culture Festivals

Valerie and Michael Ewing, of Chicago, supported the 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival in Chicago. Their experiences became the foundation for making the impossible possible in every aspect of their lives. Photo by Bob Nardi.


A Spiritual Revolution From Chicago

Michael and Valerie Ewing
Chicago

Living Buddhism: Can you tell us how your journey with Nichiren Buddhism began?

Valerie Ewing: Shortly after Michael and I were married in 1972, we were unhappy and strongly considering divorce. A friend told us about the SGI, and we had only been to a handful of meetings, when we were asked to perform in an upcoming general meeting under the direction of Pascual Olivera. We were dancing onstage for an SGI meeting before we were even members. I guess you could say that we “emerged dancing”! Soon after, we received the Gohonzon, and 46 years later, we are still happily married.

What do you remember most about the 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival?

Michael Ewing: It was the first major SGI culture festival following April 24, 1979, with members traveling from all over the world. I felt that Sensei began his movement to reform Nichiren Buddhism, which had been distorted by the priesthood, from this festival in Chicago!

Valerie: President Ikeda’s resignation was a confusing event for us, as we knew little about what had happened and the corruption of the priesthood. Looking back, Sensei made a fresh start for world peace using culture, which has the ability to connect people’s hearts.

During this festival, I was coordinating the African Dance performance. The African American members in Chicago were so happy to represent our roots in front of Sensei with this performance.

These are very profound insights about the significance of the festival. How did you connect with President Ikeda at this time?

Michael: Even though there were thousands of people attending this event, I felt like President Ikeda had a personal investment in my victory. Several years earlier during a training course in Japan, I had participated in a young men’s baseball tournament. Before the game, I was suddenly benched even though I was supposed to play. I thought: Did they bench me because I’m black? I was very discouraged. Then, Sensei came over to encourage us at the baseball field. He walked right up to me, shook my hand and bowed deeply to me. No one had ever shown me that much respect in my life. I determined that no matter what the challenge, I would never leave this organization. Later, I read that Sensei had witnessed discrimination when an African American boy was not included in a game of ball in Chicago in 1960. The boy ran away humiliated, too fast for Sensei to catch up to him, but Sensei promised the boy in his heart to “build a society truly worthy of your love and pride.”[1]1. The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 145. That day, I felt like Sensei caught me before I ran away.

Valerie: I’ll never forget attending a meeting with President Ikeda in Chicago in 1975, when I was nine months pregnant. At that time, we all sat on the floor during meetings, and I became extremely uncomfortable seated in that position. Mrs. Ikeda took notice of my discomfort and told Sensei. He immediately encouraged me and asked those around me to make sure I was comfortable. I experienced firsthand that Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda’s sole concern is for the happiness of others.

How have these experiences impacted your lives?

Valerie: From participating in these festivals, I’ve learned to make the impossible possible. Throughout my life, I have faced severe mental health challenges, so it was difficult to advance my dream as an artist while working and raising four children. But, 18 years after that festival, on June 6, 1999, I received my master’s degree in inter-related arts and became an adjunct professor. I have been fulfilling my dream to give hope to young people.

Michael: I have actualized my passion for music, as leader of the Chicago Ikeda Kings Orchestra and a member of two other bands. SGI activities, and especially culture festivals, have ingrained in me that my life has infinite worth and that I should never give up on myself.

 

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President Ikeda gives a standing ovation to performers during a community event in Daly Plaza, the day after the 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival, June 1981. Photo by Seikyo Press.

The 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival

Chicago, 1981

Just 18 months following his resignation[2]On April 24, 1979, Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as the third Soka Gakkai president in order to shield the Soka Gakkai members from the machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, who colluded with several former Soka Gakkai members to bring about the organization’s downfall.
as third Soka Gakkai president on April 24, 1979, SGI President Ikeda embarked on a new voyage for world peace, visiting several cities in the United States in October 1980. Undeterred by mounting persecution from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, President Ikeda wrote in his diary on that evening: “I am not afraid of adversity. I am a lion. I am a direct disciple of the great leader of kosen-rufu, Josei Toda. I will foster young people and once more, with fresh determination, work to build an indestructible Soka Gakkai.”[3]2. The New Human Revolution, vol. 30, chapter 1, “Great Mountain” booklet, p. 79.

During his October 1980 visit to Chicago, SGI President Ikeda promised to return the following year for a “grand culture festival” with members from throughout the world. On June 25, 1981, President Ikeda returned to Chicago, where he encouraged the members and attended the 1st Grand World Peace Culture Festival, held on June 28. The festival included some 20,000 members from across the United States, as well as 50 countries and territories, with performances representing South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. President Ikeda viewed this festival as a new departure for the SGI as a world religion, fully accessible to people of all cultures and backgrounds.

Toward the end of the festival, two youth recited the poem President Ikeda had penned a week earlier, on June 20, during his visit to New York, “To My Beloved Young American Friends: Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth.” It reads in part:

America, this land uniting nations, / where people from everywhere / have gathered in harmony, / a miniature of the entire world. / Only in the unity and solidarity of / so many diverse peoples / is to be found the principle and formula / for global peace.[4]The Sun of Youth, p. 69.

From this festival came the determination to advance as one human family, one world, in the direction of peace.

 

(pp. 12-13)

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. 1. The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 145.
2. On April 24, 1979, Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as the third Soka Gakkai president in order to shield the Soka Gakkai members from the machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, who colluded with several former Soka Gakkai members to bring about the organization’s downfall.
3. 2. The New Human Revolution, vol. 30, chapter 1, “Great Mountain” booklet, p. 79.
4. The Sun of Youth, p. 69.