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“Creators of Peace”

Some 400 gather for the first Culture of Peace event especially for women.

Dr. Sarah Wider, Stefanie Horton, Emerson Dudley and Dr. Betty Reardon participate in a panel discussion at the first Culture of Peace event for women at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center, June 28. PHOTOS BY KAZUE UZAWA.

by Jihii Jolly

And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day.
I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid.
I’ll rise up. And I’ll do it a thousand times again.

They arrived early to the strains of Andra Day, Keala Settle and Sara Bareilles urging them to rise up, to be themselves and to be brave.

On a warm Friday evening at the New York Culture Center, some 400 people, a quarter of them guests, made history as participants of the first Culture of Peace event especially for women.

Women having a spirited discussion after the historic event. Photo by PHOTOS BY KAZUE UZAWA.

In a scene imbued with beauty, brightness and pride, “A Gathering of Women: Creators of Peace” began on June 28 with a screening of excerpts from the critically acclaimed film, Women, Peace and Power, which features examples of how women have positively influenced peace negotiations in different parts of the world. Following this, a dynamic, intergenerational panel of peacemakers shared their own responses to the film and engaged in a dialogue and Q&A with the audience.

Dr. Sarah Wider, a professor of English and women’s studies at Colgate University for 33 years, and a founding member and former president of the Emerson Society, began by pointing out the words of Bernadette Devlin, a civil rights leader in Northern Ireland, who, in the film, spoke about women who have never been written into history.

“I think a lot about story,” Dr. Wider said. “I’m a literature professor, story has been my whole life. I think we are all made out of stories—what are we but our stories?”

“And when I think about that story, I also think about what story are we being written into? We don’t want to be written into that old story where conflict is the default setting.”

This sentiment was echoed by Stefanie Horton, women’s leader for SGI-USA New York Zone and an early childhood education specialist, who shared from SGI President Ikeda’s 2019 peace proposal about the concept of “peacelessness” as an “illness of the soul.” This concept identifies the enemy of humanity as thinking that justifies destructive acts against people. “Dr. Ikeda stresses that the way to combat such ways of thinking requires a realization of the interconnectedness of life, and calls for a transformation of consciousness from the pathology of peacelessness to one that is based on a great determination to save all living beings,” Ms. Horton said.

She chose to work with human beings in the first years of life because the cultivation of peacefulness “can begin from the earliest experiences.”

As if a testament to this very process, the youngest panelist, 17-year-old Emerson Dudley, a recent graduate of the Beacon School and incoming freshman at Pomona College, shared her own experiences as a peer educator at the Center for Anti-Violence Education, which helped her break through her shy nature in order to mentor other young people.

“One aspect of the video that particularly struck me was the solidarity of women in each of the three countries,” she said. “The support and uplifting manner that the women exhibited toward one another made it clear that it was not a matter of just one woman’s glory, but it was a decided unity of women with the clear mission of making change.”

The audience was moved to applause to hear about her work and aspirations, but perhaps the most excited was Dr. Betty Reardon, founder of the field of peace education who has lived and advanced the cause of peace through every war since the Great Depression. She responded to Emerson with joy and laughter, saying, “I am filled with hope because the fourth generation has courage and vision.” Dr. Reardon lifted up the role that young people, particularly women, should play in articulating a vision for a new culture of peace, sharing, “Those who are most affected should be most involved in deciding how, why and what.”

The dynamic of the panel itself was as powerful as their dialogue, as each woman modeled what thoughtful listening, dialogue and appreciation—in other words, the pursuit of peace—can look like.

“The purpose of tonight’s gathering is to recognize, nourish and empower one another as peacemakers, each in her own realm, based on her own passions and her concern—whatever moves your heart,” said Paula Miksic, the event’s organizer, and SGI-USA East Territory Director of Peace and Community Relations.

In that spirit, after engaging in a lively yet serious Q&A with the audience on subjects such as how to foster authentic dialogue, how to combat bullying and how to speak up against injustice, each panelist shared her own call to action, offering concrete steps women can take as peacemakers in their own communities.

A Call to Action

My call to everyone is to ask yourself: What am I modeling in this moment? Am I modeling hope? Am I modeling peace? Am I modeling really respecting the dignity of life?

—Stefanie Horton

To have peace, to have sustainable peace, we need to have a planet, and so for something to send you forth with, it is to consume less, appreciate more and do one kind, loving, joyous, creative thing for the planet every day.

—Dr. Sarah Wider

If there’s one thing that I would take away from this discussion, it would be to break the habit of doubting myself in being able to speak up when I see inequities, and to create as many trusting relationships as I can. So my call to action is to go out and expand your own personal network and just cultivate amazing friendships.

—Emerson Dudley

The problem is seizing our power. We are going to take power to save the world, and we are going to share the power, and in that sharing, we will cherish the earth, we will end war and we will establish once and for all human equality, and that starts with gender equality, and from gender equality, it includes everybody. That’s your assignment!

—Dr. Betty Reardon

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