City keeps peace with Nobel summit

By Vanessa Morton

While Chicago prepares for the G8 and NATO summits this May, there is another upcoming event that will mark new ground for the city.

History will be made April 23–25 when Chicago is scheduled to host the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, an international gathering three weeks before world leaders and NATO officials make their appearance this spring.

“They’ve had it every year for 12 years in a different city, but they’ve never had it in North America,” said Kerry Kennedy, Chicago Summit co-chair and president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “This year they are going to have it in Chicago because it’s an international city with a strong history of social justice activism, and it has produced more Nobel Laureates than any city on earth.”

After Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the announcement last November, the Chicago Summit planning team joined Kennedy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire in a Feb. 29 round-table briefing at strategic communications firm Jasculca Terman, 730 N. Franklin St.

The World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates was first held in 1999 with help from the Gorbachev Foundation and is considered one of the most important events covering issues of peacemaking and non-violence by addressing the central social and political issues of the world, Kennedy said.

The summit stands as a platform for the “alumni association of Nobel Peace Prize winners” as they focus on specific world issues and ideas and provide solutions moving forward, according to a Chicago Summit spokeswoman.

“I would say it’s a good opportunity for all of these world leaders to get together in one room and have a very focused conversation about the greatest issues in human rights, justice and peace that are affecting areas around the world today,” the spokeswoman said.

According to her, approximately $1 million has been raised for the summit by private donors, and another $300,000 is needed to reach the organizers’ goal.

As Kennedy led the discussion, she provided an overview of what to expect during the summit and the role education plays in this year’s event.

The summit will be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago and will feature some of the world’s most influential leaders, such as former President Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama. Others include past and present Nobel Peace Prize Laureates such as Maguire, an activist in the peace movement during “the Troubles,” a period from the ’60s to the ’90s when Northern Ireland was home to a violent ethno-political conflict.

“When that happens in any community, if you can’t keep the atmosphere peaceful and if people can’t have dialogue and listen to each other, then you can’t move forward to bring political change,” Maguire said, referencing her experiences.

This year’s theme, “Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights,” emphasizes the empowerment of both high school and college students, and is set to begin at 12 Chicago public high schools.

According to Kennedy, the Nobel Laureates plan on fanning out across the city to engage in a conversation with Chicago students and residents that will include panel discussions dealing with the importance of global peace and basic human rights.

She said plans for these discussions begun 14 months ago through a partnership with the RFK Center, Nobel Secretariat, Chicago Community Trust, the mayor’s office, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union.

An agreement was made to implement the RFK Center’s human rights program “Speak Truth to Power,” to high schools citywide. Additionally, 150 social studies teachers set to attend the summit will be trained in five different social justice curricula to be implemented in their classrooms.

“The education curriculum teaches students both the theory and practice of human rights so each student learns about the international declaration and other international laws and activities on these issues,” Kennedy said.

She also noted that youth empowerment couldn’t come at a better time, especially with the G8 and NATO summits occurring just weeks later.

“I think that, for students who want to protest against anything that’s happening in our society, this is a call to them to use their energy and their instinct for that because that’s exactly what we’re trying to harness,” Kennedy said.