Celebrating the International Day of Peace in Chicago

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By Burrell Poe
Director, Chicago Peace Fellows

On November 30, 1981, the U.N. declared that September 21 would be observed as the International Day of Peace, devoting the day to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples.” But, this was not the first time that Peace Day was celebrated. Three years earlier, on September 7, 1978, Chicago heralded the inaugural Peace Day in an effort to promote a civic commitment to worldwide and city-wide peace.

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Since then, Peace Day has been officially celebrated every year in Chicago through the work of the Peace School, a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating classes, activities and events that aim to provide tools for building individual and world peace.

On Peace Day, the diversity of the city of Chicago is showcased as different communities across the city come together to learn about and participate in peace building activities. In 1987, Chicago was designated by the U.N. as a Peace Messenger City and Peace Day serves as an international event to encourage tolerance and mutual respect. For the last forty-two years, Peace Day has begun with a minute of silence and members of the community are invited to focus their wishes, thoughts, and prayers on achieving peace in the world and in their communities.

Representatives of the 80 different countries in Chicago’s Consular Corps join in celebrating Peace Day to show an international commitment to facilitating peace and honoring different cultures. Flags from 193 countries around the world are also displayed by flagbearers in traditional costumes as the audience wishes peace for each country represented. The international call to peace is also felt as different communities showcase performances such as traditional dances and world music that is free for the public to enjoy.

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Peace Day is also largely centered around achieving peace in Chicago itself and many local communities join together to expand Peace Day’s reach across Chicago. In 2008, the Chicago Build the Peace Committee was formed to continue planning and expanding Peace Day activities. Coordinators of the committee represent community centered organizations across Chicago and aim to plan and expand Peace Day activities. Some of these activities include the development of Peace Day resources for Chicago Public Schools and the creation of a 21 Days of Peace Challenge, which provides daily guidelines for ways in which people can find peace in their daily lives.

2020 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pastor Victoria Brady joined the Build the Peace committee when it was first formed in 2008. She had already spent 10 years working with communities across Chicago and was invited to the Build the Peace committee in the hopes that she could expand Peace Day’s reach across the Chicago Public School system. Since then, Victoria has performed, acted as a M.C. and as a stage manager for Peace Day.

Victoria was introduced to Peace Day by Credell Walls on a trip to Ghana in 2006. She was struck by Peace Day’s commitment to “peace” rather than “non-violence.” While many groups in Chicago advocate for non-violence, the word “peace” struck Victoria because of its affirmative and positive associations. Victoria believes strongly in the power of words and stresses that “peace” is a word that is loaded with power and invokes tranquility and harmony. She emphasizes that using language of peace can externalize inner tranquility and harmony into the world and be used to unify communities and heal from trauma.

In addition to her role as a minister and community activist, Victoria is also a playwright. Her plays often serve to humanize victims of violence in Chicago and convey messages of peace. In 2010, she wrote a play titled Blair’s Story, which told the story of sixteen-year-old Blair Holt, who was fatally shot on a CTA bus. When first seeing the story on the news, Victoria was affected by the fact that the story only received fifteen seconds of airtime. The lack of attention to the young man’s life felt horrible and dehumanizing to her and she felt compelled to tell his story and relate it to broader issues of gun violence. In this play, Victoria once again touches on the affirmative power of peace as protestors rally and proclaim “Peace now! Peace didn’t stop, we did.” She aims to show peace as having the power to unify and empower members of the community allowing them to address issues in their community.

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Victoria’s plays not only affirm the symbolic power of peace, but also actively bring opportunities to members of her community. She serves as the President and CEO of Annie B. Jones Community Services, Inc., an organization that “utilizes the visual, media, and performing arts to create innovative programs that teach youth to become change agents in their own community.” Her plays often serve as opportunities for young people to create, act, and bring real life issues to the stage. Victoria has also planned and coordinated arts activities that allow youth to actively engage with their community. In a project called “Blocks of Beauty” she asked young people to interview members of block clubs in their community and guided them into turning these oral histories into works of art. These projects not only allowed for young people to develop creatively but also allowed them to explore their communities as places of beauty and peace.

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