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Keynote Address by Robin Sakina Mama, PhD, MSW - NASW-NJ Membership Dinner and Board Installation Se
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NASW-NJ Membership Dinner and Board Installation
September 22, 2012

Keynote Address

Robin Sakina Mama, PhD, MSW
Board of Directors, NASW National
Dean of the Monmouth University School of Social Work

It is an honor to be asked to speak to you this evening, in these beautiful and historic surroundings. Our Monmouth social work students and faculty are very proud that we could host this dinner.  I hope you will enjoy the evening and take a moment to walk around on this floor to appreciate the grandeur of Wilson Hall.  

When DuWayne asked me to speak tonight, he thought I might talk to you about the International Day of Peace - an annual observance by the United Nations, which took place yesterday, September 21st. 

The United Nations has quite a number of international observance days that occur on an annual basis.  These observance days have been used to promote a myriad of issues that the UN works on or its members believe are important to highlight. These days allow the UN to focus work and effort towards the priorities that these days establish. 

The General Assembly has the responsibility to establish these days, and a number of these have come through the advocacy of NGOs.  Some of these observance days have turned into observance weeks, years or even decades.  For example, the NGO Committee on the Family helped to establish, with the assistance of the country of Benin, the first International Day of Families - which is always held in early May.  It was also instrumental in working with the Economic and Social Council to declare 1994 as the International Year of the Family.  A 10th anniversary celebration of the International Year of the Family was celebrated in 2004.  

The International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, is observed annually on the 21st of September. The resolution for establishing the International Day of Peace was sponsored by the United Kingdon and Costa Rica.  It is dedicated to peace, and more specifically the absence of war and violence. The day was first celebrated in 1982, and is kept by many nations, groups, and peoples. The first occurrence of the International Day of Peace was the 21st of September, 1982. Yesterday, a number of cities and countries around the world celebrated Peace Day with all kinds of events.  In Hawaii, Kona Peace Day was celebrated for the first time with concerts, a peace potluck dinner, and a candlelight peace walk (http://www.hawaii247.com/2012/09/20/kona-peace-day-debuts-with-host-of-activities-sept-21/) 

A little closer to home, celebrations in Philadelphia included a walk against gun violence, a poetry reading by Sonia Sanchez in Love Park, and a moment of silence at noon (http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/09/16/philadelphia-to-celebrate-annual-day-of-peace/) 

Peace Day, as it has come to be known, provides an opportunity for all of us to create practical acts of Peace and to reflect on the impact that world peace could have. It has been used as a day to declare a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The concept of global ceasefire has been used every year in combat zones to allow for humanitarian aid access. This symbolic gesture is designed to reinforce the fact that with war comes immense suffering for everyone involved.  

Implementation of course, is the biggest issue when confronted with the idea of peace and how to establish it or reach it.  As this observance day has evolved, the United Nations and other organizations have expanded the concept of peace from the absence of war and nonviolence to include other related, and very important ideas around what peace is and how we can achieve it. In 1999, the General Assembly passed a resolution (53/243) to declare a "Program of Action on a Culture of Peace". The culture of peace envisioned by the GA "is a set of values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behavior and ways of life based on (the following): 

a) respect for life, ending of violence and promotion and practice of non-violence through education, dialogue and cooperation;

b) full respect for the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of States;

c) full respect for and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms;

d) a commitment to peaceful settlement of conflicts;

e) efforts to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations;

f) respect for and promotion of the right to development;

g) respect for and promotion of equal rights and opportunities for women and men;

h) respect for and promotion of the right to freedom of expression, opinion and information;

i) adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding at all levels of society and among nations, fostered by an enabling national and international environment conducive to peace (A/Res/563/243 October 1999, pg 2-3). 

The document then goes on to discuss what actions and strategies are necessary to create this culture of peace.  The culture of peace is focused on changing the climate and environment in which we all interact.  It certainly resonates with our social work values. 

Out of this document has now come a movement for Peace Building.  Unlike peace-making and peace-keeping, which are related to warfare and settlement of conflicts, "...the concept of peace-building (is) the construction of a new environment - the transformation of deficient national structures and capabilities, and - the strengthening of new democratic institutions." (Excerpted from "An Agenda for Peace", a UN Report of the Secretary-General in January 1992, which globally and officially recognized the emerging field of PeaceBuilding.).  Peace building seeks to be a constant activity, something that we can structure our lives with.  It can transform our institutions if we really think about what peace building means. 

And out of the movement for peace building, comes of concept of a personal ceasefire. What is this?

A personal ceasefire asks that we each look at ourselves and think about our relationships with everyone around us.  It can mean re-evaluating conflicts in our personal lives. Do we have relationships where confrontation or lack of communication is dominant? What can we do to improve these relationships? 

It can mean looking at our family dynamics - what can we do to make sure all members of the family feel seen and heard? Why not declare a 24 hour ceasefire between siblings, where every quarrel has to be solved in a creative and peaceful way? 

In school settings, are there people that are left out or harassed? What can we do to stop this? Certainly tackling issues around bullying can help here. 

In work settings, examine if there is conflict and competition affecting how people perform their duties and how they feel about themselves? Do we have conflictual relationships with our coworkers that we should resolve?  We have certainly seen the outcomes of work hostilities in the last few months, with the Empire State Building shootings among other gun related violence.  When we see this type of violence, we have to realize that something has gone horribly wrong in the workplace for someone to think they have no other option than to shoot their co-worker.  

And finally, in our communities are there groups of people that don’t get along? Are there groups that are excluded from community life?  How can we as an interest group reach out to others and start a conversation? (www.cultureofpeace.org).   

So here we are, a day after Peace Day, thinking and reflecting upon what this day means and how we should think about participating in keeping it alive, present, and working.  How do we ever reach peace, if we don't start with ourselves, and then work our way upwards from that point.  As Martin Luther King once said, "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal".  I challenge all of us to be part of the process and one of the means by which we get to the goal. 

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