This September 21, people around the world will celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace. In 1981, the day was created by a unanimous United Nations resolution. Since then, each year on this date, individuals commit to building a culture of peace.
“The United Nations International Day of Peace is important because it marks a moment in time when every country in the world is encouraged to pause and reflect on issues related to peace,” said Maya Soetoro, PhD, co-founder of The Peace Studio.
An innovative non-profit organization, The Peace Studio was created to give artists and journalists the tools to help restore hope, fight injustice and bridge the gaps. The organization encourages people of all nations to understand that by working together, peace, justice, protection of human rights and compassion for differences are possible. Their mission is to provide active peacebuilding skills to those who are integral to shaping our culture. The idea is to shift the dialogue from fear and conflict to hope and possibility.
“It’s really about encouraging artists and journalists to tell stories and create art that showcases the best of humanity,” says Soetoro. She was also the director of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where she taught leadership for social change, history of peace movements, education to peace and conflict management for educators.
To this end, as of September 19, The Peace Workshop is hosting a free three-day virtual summit featuring panel discussions, workshops and performances. Ending September 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace, the summit finale explores racism, anti-Semitism and hatred.
The Peace Summit features an impressive lineup that includes Viola Davis, Common, civil rights leader Xernona Clayton, Ringo Starr, Dondré Whitfield and Adrian Grenier. Each day begins with yoga and meditation sessions. The panels cover everything from the use of music for social justice, to how journalists can help promote peace through their coverage of world events, to the contemplation of identity through poetry.
“I hope the public will leave feeling that they have been given new tools to embark on their own journey to inner peace, to protecting our planet in the midst of this urgent climate crisis,” said Soetoro, also an advisor. of the Obama Foundation. “And they better understand the challenges facing communities of color right now.”
From an early age, Soetoro developed an awareness of the importance of social justice from his mother, Ann Dunham. “My mother would take me with her to develop micro-finance programs in different communities in Indonesia and elsewhere and show me that being able to feed your family could have a huge ripple effect on gender equality or well-being. wider community, ”explains Soetoro, whose brother is President Barack Obama. “I quickly learned that each action informs another and why it is important for all of us to truly place frontline lives in our imaginations, to unleash compassion and creativity as we work together to craft fair and informed solutions. . ”
In fact, as Soetoro explains, her mother always built a sense of community wherever she went, whether through conversations, sharing meals, or learning about culturally diverse stories. “Even years after her death, people in the villages where she worked still remember her because she really took the time to get to know and love others,” says Soetoro. “She enchanted everyone and never started from a place of fear or prudence, but always from a place of openness and curiosity.”
Jeryl Brunner: Why do you think The Peace Studio is special?
Maya Soetoro: We live in a chaotic world. Every hour of every day a scary new headline in the news … another mass shooting, an unexpected tsunami, raging wildfires, the toll of Covid-19. The list is lengthened increasingly. In our minds, the need for peace – personal peace, community peace and world peace – has never been greater. The Peace Studio is a growing nonprofit created to provide resources and a platform to the people who we believe are best positioned to be among the first responders in a world in need of more. great peace: artists and journalists.
We don’t teach them their trade. The artists and journalists we work with already tell powerful stories, create stunning visual works, and play music beautifully. Our unique mission stems from our desire to train artists and journalists to see their work as integral parts of peace and justice – that they come to understand that they have a vital role to play in creation. of social movements and empathy even in the midst of chaos. We encourage the people with whom we work to develop a daily practice of reflection (journal, meditation, yoga) so that they are better equipped to serve society. We also ask them, (especially those who work in media), to tell the difficult stories of today in a way that celebrates the capacity for human resilience in the darkest times. Our larger goal is that over time we create a community of courageous artists and journalists who believe themselves to be true leaders in peacebuilding, which we define as a commitment to create work that challenges injustice through a lens of compassion and love.
Jeryl Brunner: Can you give us some behind-the-scenes details on the last panel, your celebration of the summit final, September 21?
Soetoro: I’m super excited to be hosting this year alongside my wonderful friend, the amazing actor, Dondré Whitfield. The 90-minute journalistic program will take audiences on a journey through three stimulating conversations and two performances aligned with the themes of our 2021 Summit: Finding Peace in Communities, Finding Peace in Yourself, and Finding Peace in the World. Hope your readers will join us on the 21 at 8 ET / 5 PT at thepeacestudiosummit.org.
With the complicated state of our nation and our constant exposure to crises and trauma in all parts of the world, what doable steps people can take to help foster change and be active peacemakers?
Soetoro: We have to start with the things closest to us, which means we start by nurturing personal peace. Personal peace can be found in different ways. There is no single formula. It can be a process of post-traumatic growth or learning to accept yourself as you are, deepening your own empathy and compassion for others. The list is lengthened increasingly. After starting a process of cultivating inner peace, it is then a matter of being courageous in seeking opportunities to be a leader in the community spaces closest to you.
The reality is that we have an impact in our communities whether we like it or not. And so, as a peacemaker, you must embrace your own power to impact the community with benevolence, work to make those around you feel supported and valued, increase your awareness of social injustice, then ask yourself questions like, “Am I expanding my sphere of influence?” in this community where I live and work? Do I speak with honesty and kindness? Do I find ways to serve others? And do I find ways to change organizational structures that might improve not only my life, but most importantly, the lives of others? As I tell my students, “We all have a voice, you just have to find the right place to enter the flow and then choose to step in.” “
Brunner: How do you practice peacebuilding in your daily life?
Soetoro: I engage in a number of daily mindfulness and meditation practices which are essential for me. I also work with a number of non-profit organizations whose missions are close to my heart, the three that I co-founded including The Peace Studio, but also others. I serve alongside the homeless community in a number of parts of Hawaii and develop my understanding as we take care of parks, beaches, gardens and public washrooms together. I often bring my children with me when I do service work.
I also do a lot of work trying to educate and be inspired by young people through the Matsunaga Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii where I teach. I enjoy working with my students to create action plans and instill in them the skills of non-violent communication and conflict transformation. I’m also very aware these days of the need to do social justice work in a way that deals with trauma and the possibility of post-traumatic growth. To this end, I am part of groups like the Allied Council for the Domestic Violence Action Center and other similar organizations. I am grateful to think this year about social justice embodied and how we can bring a sense of joy to our justice work together as a community. I also believe that movement and art in peacework can reconnect body, mind and intellect in the service of greater justice, harmony and human rights.