50K Festival

"A New Sun of Hope has Risen"

50,000 Lions of Justice take a stand and usher in an era of hope and respect.

Photo by Anthony Wallen.

They came from the farthest reaches of the country and gathered on Sept. 23 in nine U.S. cities, 50,000 strong. And with an earsplitting roar, the youth of America vowed to stand in solidarity with the world’s people and act as the protagonists for a new era of peace.

The festival, themed “50,000 Lions of Justice: Ushering in an Era of Hope and Respect!” was held in nine locations: Newark, N.J., Miami, Fla., and Atlanta, Ga., in the east; Chicago, Ill., Dallas, Texas, and Phoenix, Ariz., in the central U.S. corridor; and Anaheim, Calif., San Jose, Calif., and Honolulu, Hawaii, to the west.

In a moving message, SGI President Ikeda encouraged the youth to hold fast to their great vow, viewing their hardships as the training ground to become an ally to the suffering (see p. 2):

I urge you, the youth of America, whom I deeply cherish, to proudly forge ahead to create a better society and a better world. Regardless of the trials you may face, please advance boldly along the great path of personal transformation we call human revolution, with the conviction that “when I change, my environment will change.”

“Lions of Justice Youth Vow.”

In that vein, the SGI-USA youth introduced their “Lions of Justice Youth Vow,” creating a set of five benchmarks to define a new era of hope and respect for all in the U.S. (see p. 38). They are:

1. View the people of the world, beyond all borders, including refugees, as family, equally worthy of respect.

2. End violence in our homes and communities, and fight to end the sense-
less killing of precious individuals!

3. Ceaselessly engage in dialogue that uproots ideas that justify hatred and discrimination. Violence, hate and discrimination have no place in this country any longer!

4. Remember that the earth is our common home that we must protect and work together to reduce human activity that threatens the survival of our planet.

5. Fight to abolish nuclear weapons by 2030, based on second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s 1957 declaration to abolish nuclear weapons.

In his opening remarks, SGI-USA Youth Leader David Witkowski deeply thanked all the participants who went to incredible lengths to attend the festival. He then spoke of the world they have inherited, scarred as it is by endless violence, threats of nuclear war, environmental degradation and social isolation.

Ultimately, the festival was a gathering that ignited 50,000 inner revolutions—the ripple effects of which will send waves of hope and change throughout every facet of society far into the future.

The festival, he said, is their message to the world that the youth will courageously challenge every obstacle in their path and make a lasting difference. “The SGI exists to bring people together from all walks of life to encourage and support one another in achieving our life goals and dreams,” he said. “We are determined to stand up in solidarity with people from all ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds and, united based upon shared respect and mutual understanding, to work together for peace.”

“You have a vision for the world as it ought to be.”

The gathering received praise from influential figures in society (see p. 19), including former First Lady of the U.S. Michelle Obama, who sent a video message shown at the festival, in which she expressed her pride in the youth for setting their sights so high.
“You are part of this festival because you are not content with the world as it is, and you have a vision for the world as it ought to be,” she continued. “That’s why you’re coming together today to insist that every person on this planet be treated with dignity and respect no matter what we look like, how we worship or whom we love.”

“Bring back the fearlessness.”

The festival was held in two parts, with Part 1 simulcast live from the Honda Center in Anaheim to the other locations across the country.
It opened with a moving video montage, featuring close-ups of a diverse array of SGI-USA youth from around the country, with this call to the participants:

Our world needs lions. Violence, discrimination, poverty—the roots of these problems lie in the human heart, in greed, anger and ignorance. These issues that terrify our world can only be overcome by courageous lions ready to challenge themselves, ready to change the world. Are you ready to stand up as a Lion of Justice?

The youth affirmed their response during a live video roll call, with their thundering cheers from each festival location shown onscreen. They were also treated to a special musical performance by jazz luminaries Herbie Hancock on keytar, Esperanza Spalding on bass, Daniel Rotem on sax, Frescia Belmar on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums.

Rap artists George Yamazawa and Dylan Golden followed, amping up the crowd with the original SGI-USA youth song “A New History,” with vocals from Joyce Wrice and Priya Gunaseharan. Their cry to young people:

Bring back the realness
Bring back the fearlessness
Let me see the real you

A gathering that ignited 50,000 inner revolutions.

Part 2 of the festival featured local performances from the Ikeda Youth Ensemble’s taiko, brass band, chorus, fife and drum corps and dance groups, with regional flavors on display through cultural performances, from Caribbean music in Miami to traditional Hawaiian dance in Honolulu.

But what does a Lion of Justice look like? The regional festivals featured three videos, displaying key moments in the life of President Ikeda, who suffered from illness as a youth, lost his brother to a senseless war and went on to meet his mentor, Josei Toda, and embark on a journey to transmit the humanistic teachings of Nichiren Buddhism to the world, enabling 12 million members to revolutionize their lives and societies by focusing on their individual human revolution.

The philosophy of Soka was crystallized through video experiences of youthful lions in their own right—Tyler Young, of Olympia, Wash.,
Eric Kunimoto, of Washington, D.C., and Tatiana Lee, of Los Angeles (see p. 28)—who are each effecting profound change in society by awakening to their unique missions and uncovering their true selves.

Ultimately, the festival was a gathering that ignited 50,000 inner revolutions—the ripple effects of which will send waves of hope and change throughout every facet of society far into the future.

This was evident in the many interactions that followed the festival, including this story from Justin Walker, of Los Angeles, who encouraged his neighbor to attend the event. Later, Justin received a text from his friend, saying that he had been contemplating hurting himself but that the festival changed his perspective:

All the positive energy from everybody was so fantastic that those thoughts in my head just disappeared, and I was in tears because something that I was fighting to get out of my head was gone. I realize that I can trust you with my life to be there when I need you the most.

“This is exactly what we are fighting for,” Mr. Walker said. “For each of us, as young people, to awaken to our inherent dignity, worth and mission, and based on this awareness, to take action for the happiness and welfare of others wherever we are, whether in our neighborhoods, schools, families or workplaces. Transforming our land into the Buddha land is the work of a Lion of Justice.”