Monday, May 09, 2011

A wildly successful awareness event

On April 27th, a large coalition of faith groups, refugee service organizations and STAND students came together to put on a wildly successful genocide awareness and prevention event in Chapel Hill, N.C. To make a long story short, these groups planned and worked for months to put together an event for Holocaust Remembrance Week and Genocide Awareness Month that celebrated survivors and liberators in our community, screened “The Last Survivor” documentary and held a discussion with the film’s co-director.

We squeezed 260 people into the sold-out theater and turned away about 50 people. We had three local mayors, two town council members and a state representative attend and participate in the celebration ceremony. We celebrated 12 survivors of the Holocaust and violence in Congo and celebrated 6 U.S. army veterans who liberated Nazi concentration camps. In fact, a veteran met for the first time a concentration camp survivor that he liberated – both now living in our community.

The movie had its usual powerful effect on the audience and especially drew praise from the survivors – who celebrated the film’s attempt to focus not just on the past. The conversation afterwards with the film’s co-director was powerful and inspiring, with a good conversation about what people can do to help prevent future crimes against humanity. People left motivated and engaged and determined.

The success of this event stands in stark contrast to the first Interfaith Coalition meeting held so many months ago at the beginning of my fellowship year - where only one person showed up. Some of the reasons why I think this event worked so well include:

**Strong coalitions. There was not one single group that planned this event. We made sure to involve groups such as the local Jewish federation, local church and mosques, refugee resettlement agencies, a Holocaust Speaker’s Bureau, and the local STAND chapter right from the early days. Asking them to come, have a booth and participate gave them ownership and motivation to promote to their constituencies.
**Involving local survivors. Bringing real survivors who live among us brought a very tangible, emotional power to the evening that simply showing the film would not have achieved.
**Planning far in advance. We began planning for this event late last year – a full five months before it happened. Of course, most work was done closer to the event but we got on elected officials’ calendars early, got out in front of other Holocaust Remembrance events and were well organized to get media attention.

What made some of your events better than others?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day, here is an old blog post I did about an iPod and a desert dress:

Tale Of Two Little Girls

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Updated Darfur speaker website

It's been a long time coming, but I finally got around to refreshing my other blog - which is focused on creating speaking opportunities. Many people are looking for a resource for an event, but have trouble finding new and interesting ways of raising awareness. So - my goal is to help as much as I can.

Check it out at and please spread the word about this site. You never know who might be listening to you on Facebook or Twitter that needs help with an event.



Thursday, March 03, 2011

Words to launch a new class of Fellows

With emotions and expectations running high, a new class of Carl Wilkens Fellows gathered in Washington, D.C., last month to launch a roller-coaster ride of a year. They embarked on a journey that will both challenge them and encourage them, mess with their emotions and motivate them, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime building the political will to end crimes against humanity.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. The Carl Wilkens Fellowship (CWF) with the Genocide Intervention Network is a truly unique program. I had the privilege of not only being a part of the 2009 class, but also helping the 2011 class during the retreat in February.

It was interesting seeing them go through the same emotions, express the same concerns, and feel the same sense of "finding their tribe" that I did as a fellow. We all tend to be so idealistic, motivated and leaders in our own way. We suffer from MPD - multiple passion disorder - and all desire to see an end to genocide. In this environment, its easy to start comparing ourselves to the other fellows and that can breed anxiety. It's also a recipe for us to just launch out and try to do as many things as possible, without taking the time to think things through.

So here are some parting words of advice for the 2011 Class as they begin their community leadership journey:
-Stay true to yourself and your community. Understand your skills, gifts and spheres of influence and don't get distracted by comparing yourself to others.
-Take the time to plan strategically. You can waste so much energy by rushing forward too fast.
-Build relationships. Your connections to people will last much longer than your fellowship year.
-Dream big and act small. Make sure you set your sight on big plans for change, but break down that plan into bite-size pieces.
-Have fun. Lastly, it's so easy to get depressed and disheartened when you are trying to get friends and neighbors interested in world conflicts and motivated to act. It's important to maintain a sense of humor and have fun while pursuing your fellowship goals.

I raise my glass to all the rockstars in the 2011 class and wish you the best in your grand adventure.