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?

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