CHICAGO: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar came, saw and conquered Chicagoans who flocked in hundreds to meet and greet him at Rosemont Convention Center in Rosemont where he shared his vision of meeting violence across the world with non violence.
The event hosted by Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) an internationally recognized humanitarian organization, could not have opted for a better subject than ‘Non-Violence: No Higher Calling’ as it has assumed a great relevance domestically in the light of surge in gun violence across the country, as also at the global level where religion and sectarian violence is once again rearing its ugly head.
The Thursday, March 28 program, kicked off personally from Chicago by AOLF founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, had significant participation of local grassroots civic organizations. It was capped by vocal endorsements from Illinois politicians, bureaucrats, Chicago elites and common folks from daily walk of life. Present on the occasion were US Representatives Jan Schakowsky (9th District) and Danny Davis (7th), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s resolution making March 28 “Non-Violence: No Higher Calling” Day across the State was introduced by AOLF teacher for the past 20 years Debra Poneman and read out by the Governor’s representative Teresa Marr, who presented a plaque to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in attestation. The goal is to accumulate one billion pledges, which is 100 pledges for every one act of violence recorded in the US each year.
For Ravi Shankar the root cause of societal violence is individual stress that may be relieved and avoided through the deep relaxation that comes with meditation and a practice of regulated breathing (Sudarshana Kriya) taught through AOLF. Otherwise the dammed up negative emotions are suddenly unleashed in irrational and (self-) destructive acts.
Sri Sri also recounted his experience in war-torn Iraq, observing that “inside every culprit is a victim waiting to be heard” and “a joyful person will not commit acts of violence.” In the presence of the ideal human of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, others simply lose their animosity. “Keep a big smile on the face and let it percolate the whole body and every cell,” he concluded. He also gave everyone a profound experience of deep meditation.
He touched upon two of the AOLF programs – Prison Smart and YES – that seek to address relevant issues like violence, crime and punishment affecting society. Prison Smart, as explained by Nita Virani, an AOLF teacher, reaches out to the convicts in the prison and helps them to overcome their weakness. “The main objective”, she said,” is to give them a chance to get rehabilitated in the society and be productive again.” The activists who have been visiting two State prisons with Nita sounded optimistic about the success of the move, and feel that the new movement meeting violence thru non-violence stands a big chance of success.
The YES program, as explained by Nirav Virani, who introduced Sri Sri Ravi Shankar during a private reception, aims at the school and college level creating an environment that would help a violence prone mind to act differently and in a more positive manner. He said that the breathing exercise Sahaj Yoga that the YES program seeks to introduce in schools would go a long way in curbing violence at the root.
What lent authenticity, immediacy and practicality to his message was the presence of both victims and perpetrators of gang violence from the worst neighborhoods in the Greater Chicago area. Acknowledging the despair and helplessness of the young, MC Juliet Gutierez, counselor at WestTownAcademy, declared that “we cannot wait for authorities to initiate a non-violence movement” and introduced community leaders who exemplify the possibility of individual and social change.
Having signed the pledge for 365 days of nonviolent acts, Congresswoman Schakowsky focused on the Violence against Women Act that was renewed last year and insisted the USA must be a leader against violence inflicted on women around the world. Congressman Davis’ emphasis was how connecting with our “brothers and sisters” was the way to finding both oneself and God, echoed later by Ravi Shankar’s remark that “what about me?” is the mantra for depression.
Preckwinkle, who serves a county of over five million, recounted her firsthand experience as a teacher of children permanently traumatized by witnessing violence and its destructive impact on our communities. Nilesh Patel then introduced Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with a brief video on his initiatives transcending race, nationality, and other barriers.
Debra Poneman then announced the honorees for the evening. They included founder of Run for NonVio, Alfred Pedro, who had lost 2 brothers to gun violence. He himself dodged becoming a gang member by devoting himself to ballroom dancing. Now an avid runner, he has raised hundreds of dollars in pledges. For this event he ran from Naperville to Rosemont and raised $160 in a single day
The next honoree was former NFL linebacker and founder of “Freeze and Think” Levar Fisher. After a devastating knee injury ended his football career, Levar committed his life to teaching the youth to stop and think before committing an act that could change their lives forever.
Honorees Ronald Holt and Annette Nance Holt of the Blair Holt Memorial Foundation lost their sixteen-year-old son Blair, when he tried to shield a friend from gunfire aboard a CTA bus. Honoree and Founder of Cure Violence, epidemiologist Dr Gary Slutkin, has been effectively applying the same preventive methods used against infectious diseases to cure violence. Cure Violence employs gang members to act as mediators for nonviolent resolution of conflicts.
Involved in drug trafficking earlier, honoree Ameena Mathews is the daughter of gang leader Jeff Fort who is serving time in a federal prison. She now puts her life at daily risk as a “violence interrupter” for the Chicago-based organization Cease Fire.
Photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz was honored for creating the award winning photographic series “Too Young to Die,” that documents youth violence and its true costs in North and Central America.
Honoree Ondelee Perteet, was shot in 2009 at a birthday party given by his sister. The bullet severed his spin and he became a paraplegic at the age of 14. His mom Deetreena wheeled him on stage and although the doctors said he would never regain the use of his limbs, he held the mircrophone and shared some of the most moving inspiration of the night.
The final honoree of the night was 88-year old Ratanji Dhimar, who was with Gandhiji during India’s freedom movement. Gandhi and his freedom fighters embodied the principle of nonviolence as a legitimate resistance (satyagraha) to structural (as opposed to overt) violence imposed by hegemonic powers.
The five-man singing group, The Voices, known as Chicago’s answer to Motown, began the event with an original song about ending violence called “Right Now” accompanied by a powerful montage of images of gun violence and its consequences. They also sang “Amazing Grace” in perfect five-part harmony and ended the evening inviting everyone to get on “The Love Train.”
Sri Sri’s vision of non-violent transformation is being implemented through service projects in over 150 countries worldwide. Groundbreaking work is being done through AOLF’s sister organization, The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) with veterans suffering from PTSD, local prison inmates (including those at Stateville Correctional Center and the Cook County Jail), and with students through the Youth Empowerment Seminars (YES! for schools) now being taught at numerous schools throughout the Chicago area.
Bishop Carlton Pearson is a former evangelical Christian minister in Tulsa, Oklahoma was branded heretic and excommunicated from the church for preaching what he called “The Gospel of Inclusion,”. He now leads a new church in Chicago called New Dimensions.
Ramesh Soparawala & Asian Media