Peace advocates filled the Evans Center at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix campus, on Friday to celebrate World Peace Day with poetry, song and motivational speeches.
The International Day of Peace , officially observed on Sept. 21, was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. In 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate the day as a period of nonviolence and cease-fire.
The UVI English 100 class, under the direction of instructor Mary Jo Wilder, produced and led the program with help from the Golden Key International Honours Society.
Liberal Arts and Social Science Dean Emily Williams welcomed the crowd and spoke of togetherness at UVI and working towards peace.
The two-hour program began with the Chinese proverb: “If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
Several students, including Nosakhere Williams and Geron Richards, who are affiliated with the UVI Roots Poetry group, read original peace-themed poetry. Rennetta Lewis and Jahmal Francis recited an interactive poem together and a group of former students analyzed and discussed the meaning and social importance of Beyonce’s song, Formation.
To a silent and attentive audience, District Court Judge George Cannon talked about growing up in segregated Mississippi and compared it to “Apartheid in South Africa.” Although he “developed hate based on skin color, because it was OK at the time,” he said he didn’t feel right about it in his heart. When he moved to Texas as a young adult, he witnessed more discrimination, this time against Hispanics and realized racism was not unique to white people.
Cannon said he converted to the Baha’i faith and believes there is only one race and one God. He believes racism is not natural but a learned habit and said education is needed to teach the community, especially young people not to hate. The judge pointed out that Martin Luther King believed in nonviolence, which he learned from Mahatma Gandhi.
Cannon said becoming an attorney helped him overcome his fear of the police and the law, ingrained as a child and he started his career working in legal services to help others with similar fears.
Community educator Xawntoia Franklin also spoke about nonviolence and focused on the similarities rather than differences between people in the audience. As a trainer for the Alternatives to Violence program, she asked questions that used common experiences and preferences to demonstrate the similarities of the people in the room.
“Every person you meet every day is a love letter from God,” she said.
As a fitting end to the program, One Day by Matisyahu played on the big screen and members of the audience could be heard softly singing the words of the anti-violence song.
“All my life I’ve been waiting for, praying for, people to say that we don’t want to fight no more, there’ll be no more wars, and our children will play,” the American reggae artist Matisyahu vocalized.
This year the UN secretary general will celebrate Peace Day in the Peace Garden at the United Nations headquarters by ringing the peace bell and hosting a global student videoconference. Videos created for the occasion by young people around the world on sustainable development will be available on the UN International Day of Peace You Tube channel.
So far, more than 500 events have been scheduled around the world on Sept. 21to promote world peace.
“Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all differences and to contribute to building a culture of peace,” the International Day of Peace website proclaims.