Friday, October 7, 2022

Community Groups Promote Peace in the Natural State


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We’re in the middle of Arkansas Peace Week, which is packed full of activities and events to promote the goals of peace and justice in the state.

Peace Week organizers are taking on some tough topics, from hunger and racism, to mental health and war crimes. But they say knowledge is necessary in order to build stronger communities which are more inclusive and less violent. Participants include a coalition of local, national and international organizations and faith groups.

Bob Estes, lead organizer for Arkansas Peace Week, said everyone is welcome at the events.

“We’re working with the Seventh Street Mural Project, social justice murals that were put up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and beyond, and it’s a focal point for social justice in the city,” Estes noted. “And Sunday the 25th, we’re having a festival down there, so people can go and meet the artists.”

Estes added they have partnered with the National Park Service. At Little Rock Central High School, which is a National Historic Site, events today through Saturday will commemorate the 65th anniversary of the school’s desegregation by Black students who became known as the Little Rock Nine.

Estes pointed out Little Rock has had issues with violent crime in the past, and in the last few years, crime has been on the increase once again. He said they’ve made crime prevention a priority in schools throughout the city.

“And one of the things that we’re trying to do is really, around that, starting with our children, and teaching in the school’s lessons about alternatives to violence and nonviolence conflict resolution,” Estes explained. “And we’re trying to start early and teach those skills, so violence doesn’t continue on as this generation grows.”

The most recent data from the Little Rock Police Department this month shows the number of homicides so far this year is 59, nine more than at the same point in 2021.

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What is the link between anxiety about death and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine? A Seattle-based organization is hosting a webinar Friday to discuss the connection.

The Ernest Becker Foundation seeks to advance understanding of its namesake’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Denial of Death.” Friday’s webinar starts at 10 a.m.

Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College and a panelist for the webinar, said Becker’s ideas about terror-management theory put forth that humans manage their fear of death by embracing cultural worldviews to give life meaning.

Solomon explained it convinces us we are eligible for immortality, sometimes literally with ideas of heaven or afterlives.

“Or symbolically, just the idea that you may not be here forever, but some indication of your existence will persist nonetheless,” Solomon remarked. “Maybe by having kids or amassing a great fortune or being part of a great state or nation.”

Solomon argued whether we are aware of it or not, we are highly motivated to maintain faith in our cultural beliefs since they give value to our lives as individuals, and will respond defensively and reflexively when our cultural beliefs or self-esteem is threatened.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Solomon noted Putin has been motivated since his days as a KGB agent when the Soviet Union collapsed, to bring back the golden age of the U.S.S.R., thus giving him a path toward symbolic immortality.

He emphasized Putin is an example of a toxic leader who might experience overwhelming waves of death anxiety.

“The superficial veneer of self-confidence is really a mask for massive insecurity,” Solomon contended. “A sense of always possibly being humiliated that in turn fosters, whether he’s aware of it or not, a constant sense of self-loathing.”

Michael McPhearson, executive director of South Seattle Emerald, is hosting the webinar. He is also a Gulf War veteran and member of Veterans for Peace.

“Death anxiety goes a long way at least in helping provide some understanding of why we put up with this terrible thing that we call war,” McPhearson stated.

Solomon believes the pandemic has been a pervasive reminder of our mortality and could be fueling the rise of authoritarianism around the globe, as people cling tighter to their beliefs. But he added a better understanding of death anxiety could play a role in ratcheting down these forces.

“One way — and it may be the only way — that we can overcome those very destructive tendencies is to go to great lengths to remind ourselves that as human beings, we have a whole lot more in common than we are different,” Solomon concluded.

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Ukrainians, along with many Germans and Norwegians, accounted for most of the European settlers who landed in North Dakota. Now, their descendants worry about what lies ahead for the country’s drive for freedom following Russia’s invasion.

The Ukrainian Culture Institute (UCI), based in Dickinson, said locals with ties to the country are watching the developments with great concern.

Kate Kessel, executive director of the Institute, said through the Homestead Act, Ukrainian immigrants came to North Dakota for farmland. Younger generations are now steeped in the American way of life.

But she pointed out they still worry loved ones back in Ukraine facing the possibility of going back to Soviet-era rule.

“Ukraine just celebrated their 30th anniversary of freedom, so they are a young country yet,” Kessel explained. “The people, they don’t want to go back to their communists and be under communist rule. “

According to recent polling from the National Democratic Institute, roughly 75% of Ukrainians want to become a fully functioning democracy. World leaders opposed to Russian actions, including U.S. President Joe Biden, say the invasion is an attempt to reestablish the former Soviet Union.

The UCI was established in 1980 to preserve Ukrainian culture in North Dakota. Kessel noted as older immigrants and descendants retired, a number of them passed down their farms to their children. They are heartbroken to see loved ones across the globe not fully enjoy the freedoms they were afforded after coming to the U.S.

“Many of the older Ukrainians, they still have family, distant cousins, back in Ukraine,” Kessel emphasized. “And of course, you know, any unrest over there in their homeland is very concerning to them.”

Gov. Doug Burgum issued a statement condemning Russia’s actions, saying, “Our thoughts are with those of Ukrainian heritage in North Dakota.” The governor also expressed concern about North Dakota farmers and businesses with interests in Ukraine.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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The new year is just around the corner, and one Ohio faith leader is asking folks to find comfort in community during uncertain times.

With the Omicron coronavirus variant surging, some folks may begin to feel isolated from their friends and loved ones.

Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, said relying on people in our community can be a powerful tool.

“I think it’s important, especially now, during this era of COVID, that each of us lives as a continuing education student of life and the beautiful array of people who live on this Earth alongside us,” Sullivan urged.

The pandemic has exacerbated mental-health concerns. In a November Gallup poll, only 34% of respondents said their mental health was “excellent,” a 21-year low.

For those who need additional support, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services offers a 24/7 toll-free emotional health hotline.

As part of building community in 2022, Sullivan advised people to speak out against hatred and divisiveness, and to go forward into the new year with a mindset of love and cooperation. The Ohio Council of Churches has several resources on its website for combatting racism and hate.

“We must be willing to avoid cooperating with hate and injustice and indifference, and instead cooperate and project love and peace and justice in the world and our communities,” Sullivan contended.

Sullivan added community connection does not necessarily need to be in-person. Connecting virtually can also be a powerful tool for combatting stress and anxiety over challenges in the new year. For those who do meet up in-person, public health officials recommend wearing a mask, social distancing and getting vaccinated and boosted.

Disclosure: Ohio Council of Churches contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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