A blog post by Forest Whitaker for International Day of Peace 2022

Each year, the International Day of Peace commemorates numerous goals, including one of its most important missions: calling the world to observe 24 hours of cease-fire. As cease-fires directly address open conflicts and actual wars, such a demand chiefly concerns decision-makers, armed groups, and politicians at large. As citizens, we’re encouraged to send a message to our leaders, urging them to either lay down weapons for a day – and maybe consider committing to a genuine and lasting truce – or invite them to use their power to influence other leaders to do so.

A Wikipedia search shows that 2022 has already brought over forty major conflicts. Individuals have been affected all around the world, and can do their part to petition their leaders. Ordinary citizens have the power to tell their elected officials that they want them to support cease-fires as a first step towards peace.

This is just the first step. Citizens can do more to support peace than only alerting their decision-makers. And indeed, there is more to peace than a mere absence of conflict.Peace is first and foremost a state of mind: an attitude of openness towards otherpeople and a willingness to engage in dialogue – to exchange words rather than blows. In this sense, there is much that everyday citizens can do to support peace, starting with their daily lives. This can be seen through the United Nations, which chose to commemorate the International Day of Peace 2022 under the theme: “End racism. Build peace.” Racism begets war. Nurturing irrational hatred and vile passions, racism is the ferment of conflict among countries, and can be the source of domestic divides that grow to civil war – as has been the experience of my country, the United States. The
preambles of the United Nations Charter and the UNESCO Constitution clearly state that racism is one of the deeper causes of the world wars that brought so many horrors to the 20th Century, which called us to constant vigilance.

Sadly, racism isn’t just a piece of history; the call to end racism maintains its urgency today. Over recent months and years, we have seen many manifestations of racism that, taken together, contribute to unravel the solidity of global peace: North and South, East and West. Migrants and refugees continue to be discriminated against at borders, even in the midst of global crises. In many countries, COVID-19 has exacerbated and amplified racist attitudes and behaviors towards foreigners or ethnic minorities. We cannot forget the murder of George Floyd and so many men and women like him — and the international uproar that was catalyzed by his death.

The accumulation of these incidents has generated a new awareness about the need to address racism, which some citizens have viewed as a remnant of the past. This is an important start. But we need to move to action. As UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and reconciliation, I have joined the efforts of this organization to rally youth in the fight against racism. This is a global endeavor to spark a wide array of local initiatives. Of course, the idea is to call upon world leaders to eradicate any germ of racism from our institutions, but it is also to mobilize individuals as change-makers in their own right, for example, by reflecting on one’s attitude towards other, different people, by reacting positively when witnessing people who choose to fight racism — or by organizing local awareness campaigns. In this respect, our imagination is the only limit, and it is also a limitless resource.

Throughout the years, as I’ve worked with young people from conflict- and violence- affected places, where racism will often take the form of ethnic discrimination and confrontation, I have learned to trust the power of creativity to teach people about the negativity of racism and the positivity of openness. Daily, the youths that my organization, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), trains and supports, go into schools to teach pupils and students about peace building, as well as the values of tolerance and respect. This teaching, I want to add, is not just about transmitting values from the platform. It’s also about engaging their creativity and inviting them to craft songs, plays, or poems that they can in turn use to sensitize their schoolmates, families, and communities. Our goal is to generate a cascading effect, opening the minds
of children and youth both for the future, when they become adult citizens and decision-makers, and for the present, since there is no age restriction on becoming a change-maker. In the end, they are highlighting an important truth to reflect and act upon on International Day of Peace: each of us can and must do something to end racism and build peace.

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