Global Perspectives to End Racial Discrimination

By: Motoko Sugiyama

Forum & Bridge of Peace at UN

The Forum on the Global Perspective to End Racial Discrimination in Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was held on March 21, 2005 in Conference Room 4, UN HQ, New York and sponsored by the NGO Section of DESA (Department of Economic and Social Affairs) cosponsored and organized by Women's Federation for World Peace International (WFWPI) and WFWP-USA.

Opening Session was moderated by Ms. Sheri Rueter, Vice President of WFWP-USA and Director of the Interracial Sisterhood Project (ISP). Welcoming remarks were delivered by Ms. Motoko Sugiyama, Vice President of WFWPI and Director of WFWPI UN Office, representing the sponsors and organizers. She presented an overview of the two types of ISP projects, the signature projects of WFWP. They are the International (and Interracial) Sisterhood Projects and the International Service Projects. Both projects started in 1994 when the Japan-Korea sisterhood campaign started and simultaneously, volunteer WFWP members went out to 160 nations from Japan to start service projects.

Ms. Sugiyama briefly explained the initiation of the Interracial Sisterhood Projects that developed in USA as an outgrowth of the many successful international sisterhood projects. The Interracial Sisterhood Project, featured in today's forum presents an excellent best practice to facilitate an end to racial discrimination. While WFWPI's service projects such as schools, vocational centers, health clinics, foster care program, HIV/AIDS prevention programs and others in over 60 developing countries currently focus on poverty eradication. She concluded by saying that WFWP will continue to focus on the issues of poverty eradication and elimination of racial discrimination through the two ISPs, because those two issues are closely linked in many situations and those focuses are essential to the creation of a peaceful global family.

Ms. Donzaleigh Abernathy, actress, author and daughter of civil rights leader, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy gave the keynote speech on "A Woman's Role in Ending Racial Discrimination". First, she gave an overview of the history of slavery in America, beginning in 1562 when the British went to Africa to kidnap people from their villages and literally sell African people as slaves to America. In 1619, one year before white settlers arrived in Plymouth to seek religious freedom, the foundation for slavery in America had taken root. It continued until President Lincoln declared the freedom of slaves in 1865. Mr. Lincoln stressed that if a house is divided with half free and half slave, this house could not stand. African people were called Niggers and Negro and were not citizens, yet their labor built America. In addition, British killed countless Native American Indians who graciously welcomed them to their land.
Ms. Abernathy's father, Rev. Abernathy was a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights movement leader in the 1960s. Rev. King strongly believed that the only solution to solve prejudice and racial discrimination is a nonviolent one. This year is the 40 year anniversary of the nonviolent civil rights march that began in Montgomery, Alabama. There was a white woman, an ordinary housewife who was killed by the police as she was going to take part in this nonviolent civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. Even though she was white, she was killed due to racial hatred. She gave up her life for the sake of civil rights. Ms. Abernathy stressed that we should celebrate diversities, and not hate because it was God who made everyone different. She sees that women's role is to teach man how to love. We women have to believe in ourselves. Women have the power to transform men. Even Hitler needed a woman but this woman failed to teach Hitler not to hate the Jewish people but to love. When women fail in our responsibility to love, men can't succeed in creating a peaceful world. Consequently our children continue to suffer. Therefore, women must come together to save lives through the nonviolent means that the civil rights movement has taught us.

Ms. Sheri Rueter introduced the ISP, "Bridge of Peace" She reflected about how the interracial sisterhood project developed after 20,000 sister pairs of Japanese and American women were matched in 1995 and 1996. The Interracial Sisterhood Project has been held in various situations such as high schools, universities, and racially diverse communities. In July of 1996, the ISP was honored by selection as a "Promising Practice" by President Bill Clinton and included in his initiative on Race, "One America in the 21st Century."

In July of 1996, the "Bridge of Peace" was honored by selection as a "Promising Practice" by President Bill Clinton and included in his initiative on Race, "One America in the 21st Century."

As the Bridge of Peace ceremony began, each sister crossed the bridge from each end of the bridge. First they bowed to each other, then embraced each other and stood together at the center of the bridge, facing the audience and receiving generous applause. Some men crossed the bridge and happily met a new brother. There were two hundred forum participants and most joined this lovely, joyful ceremony.

After the excitement of the sisterhood bridge ceremony, the forum began, moderated by Ms. Alexa Fish Ward, President of WFWP USA and Vice President of WFWPI.

The first panelist, Ms. Zahra Nuru, Director and Senior Advisor to the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative, UN OHRLLS (United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing Countries) spoke on the Perspective of UN Efforts to End Racial Discrimination. Ms. Nuru had participated in the sisterhood ceremony, crossing the Bridge of Peace with her new sister, Ms. Alexa Fish Ward before her presentation. She warmly expressed her joy and excitement about meeting her new sister through the inspirational Bridge of Peace Ceremony. She went on to say that as we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21 each year, we mark another milestone toward meeting the principles of the charter of the United Nations in promotion and respect for human rights and building the foundation of human dignity. Ms. Nuru quoted from the UN Charter, communicating the principles of UN as well as giving an overview of efforts of the UN General Assembly toward elimination of racial discrimination. In conclusion, she stated that the process of elimination of all forms of racial discrimination is a long term and permanent effort for individuals, civil society, states and the international community. The objective of ending racial discrimination is imperative and achievable. It is up to the states and the international community to redouble their efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination in the interest of human dignity and human rights, national and international peace and security. (To read Ms. Nuru's whole speech, visit: www.wfwp.org ).

The second panelist was Ms. Suzanne Mulcahy, Psychologist, and Director of the Northern California ISP. She spoke on the Perspective of NGOs to End Racial Discrimination. Ms. Mulcahy gave a very insightful presentation. She shared about her experiences with the Youth Forum on Interracial Harmony in California, which transformed the lives of hundreds of young people through a successful series of Interracial Sisterhood Projects. She quoted Ms. Joyce Mungherrera, President of YWCA Uganda, "adult attitude and stories deeply affect the attitudes of all youth around them". Often, even adults with the best of intentions unwittingly pass on prejudices, barriers and concepts to youth and even to small children who are not innately prejudiced.

Ms. Mulcahy told how ISP organizers began to focus on youth to offer a positive model for reconciliation to young people, creating the Youth Forum on Interracial Harmony. Middle School, High School and College students as well as teachers were invited to attend. Interactive workshops and lively discussions were held, followed by a reception and the unique Bridge of Peace ceremony.

Ms. Mulcahy explained that after attending one of the Youth Forum events, Dr. Deborah Blue, President of Laney College, said she really appreciated the positive energy in the room at this Forum. Dr. Ray Richardson, Professor of Ethics Studies, at Laney College also made the following comments: "Of the many conferences I have been honored to attend as an administrator and faculty member of the Peralta College District, I cannot recall any that left a more impressive memory than the Youth Forum on Racial Harmony. We need to expand the Youth Forum on other campuses and throughout the nation!" Ms. Mulcahy concluded by saying that women can be significant role models as well as be providing leadership during needed transitions in society. The world is not served by our silence when we, as women, hold back our spiritual gifts of the heart. The world is served when we take a stand for peace and use our voices and our heartfelt actions to find the solutions for peaceful coexistence. In closing Ms. Mulcahy stated, "When the heart is brought to the table, war is not an option."

The third and final panelist was Rev. Lonnie McLeod, President of Exodus Transitional Community, who spoke on the Perspective of Civil Society to End Racial Discrimination. As Ms. Ward introduced Rev. McLeod, she informed us that his organization, Exodus Transitional Community was featured by President Bush in his inaugural speech in January 2005 as a best practice of transitional community service. Rev. McLeod began by saying that if a man thinks man is superior to woman; this same man thinks some races are superior to other races. He added that this kind of thinking is the origin of racial discrimination. He used humor to approach to the matter of comparison between men and women. His theory is that the difference between He and She is that He does not have an "S" in the word, which means spirit and soul. It means women have spirit and soul but men don't. Therefore He can't be taken out of woman's world but woman can be taken out of man's world because woman has spirit and soul attached. He stated that to end racial discrimination, everybody should have access to education, economic development and the right to vote equally. Rev. McLeod concluded by stressing that in order to eliminate hate we need to practice love. The only way humankind can live in harmony is through exercising forgiveness and mercy. If we forgive others for past mistakes, things can be changed.

There was some time for questions. The panelists summarized as follows in response to the questions. Since the work of the UN takes so much time with meetings, talking, writing and reading, it is clear that there is no shortcut to peace. All the issues must be put on the table in this civilized time in order to avoid armed conflict and wars. Also, we must leave our injury and hurt behind and sit at the table, embrace each other as we work toward solutions to difficult problems. As long as we hold on to our own injury and hurt, we can't have peace. Peace will come only through forgiveness. We need to be able to give love and not seek only to be loved.

As Moderator, Ms. Ward closed the forum by expressing appreciation to the distinguished speakers, committed participants, staff and volunteer members of the forum organizing committee for the successful forum. This forum was significant because the day of March 21 is the very day of International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was quite an inspirational event as speakers were from beautiful and wide diversities of expertise and practices. All in the conference room shared the sense of a common destiny as one human family in our global home. We reaffirmed our common commitment to work toward the achievement of world peace.