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On New Year’s Eve, eight Worcester leaders reflected on strategies for building peace in 2017 at Community Voices of Peace, a First Night program held at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester.  It was a wonderful way to begin the new year.

The evening’s speakers included Mona Ives, an Islamic educator and member of the Worcester Islamic Center and Interfaith Committee. Here is an edited version of her remarks which you can hear in their entirety on our Facebook page.

#1 on my list of strategies is to BELIEVE in peace. Believe it is possible to achieve and that it is worth the effort, constancy, and dedication required. It is worth the inevitable setbacks and heartache that accompany the work.

Strategy #2 is to make peace-building your job title. Peace-building is not just for politicians, leaders, movers & shakers. It is for EVERYONE. Wake up each morning and attach the term “peace maker” to your title. “Peace Maker and Nurse” – “Peace Builder and Taxi Driver” “Peace Builder and Dentist” “Peace Builder and Full Time Parent”. Whatever your role in this world, start to rebuild your identity as someone who is dedicated to building peace in their everyday life. Make peace-making who you are.

Strategy #3 – Put peace on your calendar.  Pencil in time for actively helping others. Find an organization – whether it be your place of worship, a charity organization, your workplace, or engagement in the political process – and commit to spending at least some of your time making the world a better place for others. Find a cause you care about and make time for it. I personally don’t know a single person who isn’t busy or has a full schedule. But the world will never change unless we make time for it.

Strategy #4 is outreach. Expand your circle of friends and acquaintances.  Most often we make friends when we’re young and those friends make up the majority of our circle for our lifetimes. This doesn’t afford us the chance to meet someone of a different race, culture, religion, or lifestyle. If you look around the table and everyone at it looks the same, it’s time to broaden your horizons.

I know all too well what it’s like to have someone look at me with contempt just because of my religious attire or the color of my skin. I often wish I could talk to that person and ask them about their day, their family, their hobbies. Because I know that we are all MORE alike than we are different! There is much more we could do together if we are willing to break down the walls and barriers of suspicion, hatred, and intolerance.

Strategy #5 is to be brave! Recently there was a video circulating online showing a woman at a JCPenny hurling insults and racial slurs at a Latina woman in line with her. Perhaps the bigger tragedy [of that incident] was that no one said or did anything. No one said to this woman,  « Excuse me ma’am, but you are out of line. » In that moment, no one expressed displeasure at what she had said and how she had made this Latina woman anxious. We all have a social responsibility as peace-builders to send a message that this is unacceptable. Doing this may require us to dig deep for a bravery that we do not have. But peace simply cannot be built in an environment of fear, distrust, and scapegoating.  Strategy #5 is probably the most important.

Let’s teach our kids all of the above. Let’s raise our children to be the ones who stand up for the kid who gets picked on in school. Let’s teach our kids that making blessing bags for the homeless is far more rewarding than leveling up in that video game. Let’s reward them for kindness and generosity more than, perhaps, winning their little league game, and teach them about those who have less or live in different parts of the world.  If we hope to pass the torch to the next generation, we have no other choice but to do this.

It goes without saying that we stand a better chance of success if we work together and look for common ground. I hope that events like this give us the opportunity to build the type of relationships needed to succeed.

 So with that, I pray with all of my fellow citizens, Worcesterites, and people of faith that we make 2017 the year of building peace. Thank you.

 The evening’s other speakers were :

 Laurie Ross, Associate Professor of Community Development and Planning, Clark University

Rev. Daniel Gregoire – Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton

Rabbi Valerie Cohen, Temple Emanuel Sinai in Worcester

Melissa Myozen Blacker, Roshi and Abbot, Boundless Way Zen Center of Worcester

Frank Kartheiser, Lead Organizer of Worcester Interfaith since 1993

Michael True, Professor of English Emeritus, Assumption College, Founder and Board Member of CNVS

The First Unitarian Church of Worcester along with the Worcester Islamic, and CNVS sponsored Community Voices of Peace. Center co-chair Paul Ropp emceed.