From Asian Media USA
CHICAGO: To counter the rampant culture of gun violence across the US, Indian spiritual guru and Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar launched an ambitious movement called Non-Violence: No Higher Calling (NonVio) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont here on March 28.
Calling for individual pledges to acts of non-violence to counter the growing violence in society, the NonVio movement aims to collect one billion such pledges – which means 100 pledges for every one act of violence recorded in the US each year.
Since Chicago is one of the most violence prone cities in the country, many local grassroots civic organizations grappling with the pandemic, politicians and bureaucrats participated in the launch ceremony.
On this occasion, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s resolution to declare March 28 as `Non-Violence: No Higher Calling’ Day was introduced by long-time Art of Living Foundation teacher Debra Poneman. Teresa Marr, the Governor’s representative, read out the resolution and presented a plaque to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (9th District), Congressman Danny Davis (7th), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar were also present at the kick-off ceremony.
Addressing the gathering, Ravi Shankar said the root cause of societal violence is individual stress that can be relieved and avoided with deep relaxation through meditation and a practice of regulated breathing (Sudarshana Kriya) taught by AOLF.
If negative emotions such as stress remain bottled up, they suddenly get unleashed in irrational and destructive acts, he said.
Sri Sri recounted his experiences in war-torn Iraq and mentioned points from the recent Huffington Post article where he was quoted as saying 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, the spiritual guru said.
“Keep a big smile on the face and let it percolate the whole body and every cell,’’ he said, putting everyone present through a profound experience of deep meditation.
What lent 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 West Town Academy, said they cannot wait for authorities to initiate a non-violence movement. She introduced community leaders present 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 US must be a leader against violence inflicted on women around the world.
Congressman Davis said connecting with our “brothers and sisters” was the way to finding both oneself and God, which was 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. She said that the only way out is for ordinary people to take responsibility for their acts.
Nilesh Patel then introduced 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 two 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 and has run over 200 miles for NonVio.
The next honoree was former NFL linebacker and founder of “Freeze and Think” Levar Fisher. After a devastating knee injury that 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. Their Purpose Over Pain foundation reaches out both emotionally and materially to other parents who are struggling to come to grips with the loss of their children.
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.
Earlier involved in drug trafficking herself, 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. A determined young man, Ondelee now speaks at schools on the impact of gun violence and has even taken a few steps with the aid of crutches.
The final honoree of the night was 88-year-old Ratanji Dhimar, who was with Mahatma Gandhi 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, he said.
Earlier, The Voices, the five-man singing group which is 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 nonviolent 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.
As an ambassador of peace and a respected neutral figure, Sri Sri has been invited by governments throughout the world to play a key role in conflict resolution. He has brought opposing parties to the negotiating table in Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kashmir and Sri Lanka.
Also present was Bishop Carlton Pearson – a former evangelical Christian minister who gave up a 10,000 member church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he had an awakening that God loves everybody, and that every human is created in the likeness of God, even Hindus and Jews and Muslims and gay men and women – and that no one was going to burn eternally in hell.
When he started preaching what he called `The Gospel of Inclusion,’ he was branded a heretic and excommunicated from the Christian church. He now leads a new church in Chicago called New Dimensions.