Last Friday marked the 27th anniversary of the United Nation's International Day of Peace. Events took place in communities across Iowa, including Iowa City, Ames and at our own Buena Vista University.
BVU students Janet Pedrosa, Jaren Greene and Mychy Mathis worked together with Leon Williams, Director of Intercultural Programs, to put together a tree-planting ceremony that included song, dance and several speakers from the university.
People all over the globe are invited annually to take part in 24 hours of peace on Sept. 21, including engaging in community events, ceasefire in warring nations and spiritual vigils.
Rev. Ken Meissner, the BVU chaplain began the local event with a prayer for peace.
"Through the planting of this tree we are taking a stand together to nurture and support one another," he said. "The abundant fruit this tree may offer will satisfy our collective family only if we decide to gather beneath its shade with intentional actions of peace and respect for each life we encounter."
BVU President Fred Moore reminded students and community members present that the university and the community have diversified tremendously in recent years and that it is an opportunity to "achieve peace, to come together to talk and share differences."
Other speakers included BVU professors Dr. Peter Steinfeld and Dr. Kay Siebler, and students Chloe Bishop and Desmond Owusu. Mathis performed a solo song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and the DIMES (Divine, Inspired, Magnificent, Exquisite Sisters) Dance Troupe offered an inspirational dance to "No Weapon Shall Prosper."
The overwhelming message of peace took a personal tone at the community ceremony with a focus on grassroots efforts toward equality and antiracism. Both Owusu and Siebler shared poems by African -American women about equality and the injustice of racism. Siebler put the problem into perspective, letting the students know that racial violence is not just a thing of the past.
"In my lifetime, the last lynching happened in Louisiana," she said before sharing June Jordan's "Poem About Police Violence."
Steinfeld explained the difference between active and passive racism and declared a need for active antiracism. Any kind of racism is harmful to a community, because it is either being actively practiced or passively allowed, he explained. Therefore, the only solution is to be actively antiracist, speaking and acting against racist acts. He encouraged the use of the newly planted tree "as a symbol to build coalitions and to do the work of antiracism."
Mathis announced an immediate call for action in Storm Lake.
"I challenge people to take action when they see something they don't like," she said, agreeing that passive reactions to racism are just as bad as active acts of racism.
The ceremony ended with an invitation to everyone present to add a shovelful of dirt to the tree to build a strong base. Everyone present silently stepped forward and added their own effort toward dedicating the young tree to peace.
"What's most important about this tree," said Williams with closing words," is that it's a translation of our thoughts and ideas, and most importantly, a transformation of our behavior."