Monday, September 19, 2016

Engaging with others on International Day of Peace
If you advocate peace, a glance at the headlines on any given day is enough to make you cover your face in despair and give up hope. A Google news search shows over 141-million hits under “war,” including recent headlines from Kashmir, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and, of course, Syria. Throw in 34-million more hits on “violence,” including Chicago’s murders and the New York bombing, and the hopelessness is easy to understand.

We don’t have to succumb to this despair. Despite our seeming powerlessness as individuals, there is still something we can do Wednesday, Sept. 21, on the International Day of Peace, to contribute in a small way to peace in our communities and in our world.

We could protest, and demand peace. A few years ago, I received a typed letter from a Park University alumna who, at 92 years old, still conducts a one woman peace protest every week. She stands on a busy street corner in Indiana every Saturday with a sign that says, “War is Not the Answer.” Here in KC, peace activists have protested against a south KC weapons plant, and in favor of justice for African Americans and Palestinians.

These protests, and the activists who peacefully engage in them, are admirable. If you’re up to the challenge, find a street corner, and channel our 92-year old friend.

Realistically, however, the majority of us aren’t comfortable participating in such demonstrations. For us non-protesters, there is still a way that we can encourage a more peaceful Kansas City.

On Wednesday, to commemorate the International Day of Peace, challenge yourself to engage someone from a different race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. In a city as diverse as KC, this is easily done by simply driving to a part of town that you usually don’t frequent. You could visit an ethnic restaurant or business, of which there are thousands in the area. Go to an African American barbershop, a Mexican bakery, or an Arab/Palestinian restaurant, and sit down with the owners or employees. What do they think, for example, of Donald Trump’s wall or Hillary Clinton’s emails? Do they feel discriminated against? Do they think their children have equal opportunities in America? Ask about their views on immigration policy, and on whether the U.S. should admit Syrian refugees.

At Park University, we’re taking this advice on Sept. 21, and engaging with a group of six Pakistani academics who will be visiting our campus. The Pakistanis, from a school called Sukkur IBA, are on a semester-long exchange program at Johnson County Community College. At Park, they’ll be meeting with students in three classes. In my peace journalism class, I’ll ask our visitors to discuss at length the media portrayals of a supposedly dangerous and terrorist-infested Pakistan, and to reflect on the recent flare-ups in the disputed Kashmir region. I’ll also be

interested in hearing their impressions about Trump’s candidacy. In addition, the visitors will be meeting with Park faculty and staff to explore our common challenges as educators.

We can’t change the depressing headlines by ourselves—certainly not in one day. But we can do our small part on this International Day of Peace to build bridges between communities, between people, through the simple act of beginning a meaningful dialogue with someone different than ourselves. 

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