A small tree stands between Swope and Dixon-Eilers residence halls at Buena Vista University. It may be a small but it represents something big, peace. Students, staff and faculty came together Sunday night with a message. A message to stop hostility and prejudice which can often lead to fighting. A message to recognize each individual's differences as a blessing and not a curse. A message of speaking out against violence, not standing around doing nothing.
However, the BVU community wasn't alone. People around the world were invited to celebrate the International Day of Peace on September 21. The day was established by a United Nations resolution in 1982. In 2002 it was officially delcared by the General Assembly as the International Day of Peace. The day is also a Day of Ceasefire, personal and political. Governments are asked to cease fire and promote peace. However, students and staff also gave a message to encourage everyone to promote peace every day of the year, not just on Sept. 21.
In 2007, three BVU students, Janet Pedroza, Mych'iayla Mathis and Jaren Greene decided to plant the peace and justice tree. The original inspiration to plant the tree came after "Jena Six," happened in 2006. Six African-American teenagers were charged with the beating of Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana on December 4, 2006. Apparently there were more than the six African Americans involved in the fight but those six African Americans were the only ones arrested. "We thought we came far (with equality) but we haven't," said Mathis.
Apparently the fight was a result of building hostilities between students. A number of events took place in and around Jena in the months following. There were some concerns of African American students sitting under a tree where caucasions sat. The following day some nooses were hung from the tree. The tree eventually was cut down.
The students wanted to shine some light on the situation and take some action so they approached Leon WIlliams, BVU Director of Intercultural Programs. Mathis and Greene said he told them to look at home, look for racial problems right here in Storm Lake and on the campus. So they made plans to plant a peace and justice tree to promote peace on BVU's campus. Williams is leaving BVU, after almost nine years, to continue his work in North Carolina. "I have no doubts BVU will be in good hands," said Williams during the peace event. He was recognized for his work in mulicultural awareness and social justice with a gift basket.
During the celebration at BVU, students, faculty and staff from all religions, races and walks of life gathered on campus to celebrate peace with speakers including Amnesty International BVU President Choe Bishop and Swasti Bhattacharyya, Associate Professor of Religion, poems and prayers of peace shared by students. The celebration also included dances performed by Divine Inspirational Mature Exquisite Sisters (DIMES).
"Peace is not just some abstract thing, it's something we need to participate in," said Bhattacharyya. Bhattacharyya also shared some of her experiences she had while living in a India community for women the last three summers. The community was formed in 1959 by a follower of Ghandi and shared his wishes for peace and non-violence. "Are you making choices that are consistent with the path of peace?" asked Bhattacharyya. She told those in attendance that peace come through every action, every decision and daily interactions.
For more information visit www.internationaldayofpeace.com