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Making Peace

What is peace, exactly? The dictionary defines it as "freedom from war, or the time when a war or conflict ends." Many people see peace as a healing mechanism--and many ironically see it as something to fight for.

Gerry Straatemeier, the coordinator for local nonprofit Seasons for NonViolence, thinks of it a little differently.

"Peace isn't just about not making war," she says. "I mean, it is about that, but it's a lot more. ... Peace means less violence, less racism, less fear--more trust. Rather than becoming 'peace warriors' and just being upset about the injustices of life, we need to create an infrastructure that supports peace, justice and sustainability from the start."

That's the idea behind the Culture of Peace Alliance of Tucson (COPA), a coalition of local organizations--including Seasons for NonViolence--that promote a concept the United Nations calls the Culture of Peace, defined as "a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root cause."

How do we achieve this culture of peace? Largely, says the U.N., through education. It makes sense: If we could actively encourage all our youth to embrace diversity, positive values and conflict-resolution skills, the world should be a lot nicer in a generation or two.

This is easier said than done, but the people behind nonprofit youth program City at Peace have already gotten started. In places like New York, Los Angeles, Israel and Cape Town, South Africa, the organization is helping teenagers of all backgrounds create peaceful lives and communities through the performing arts. Each year in the program, kids ages 13 to 19 unite to compose and perform in an original musical that shares their experiences and their ideas for a better world. They also create "community change projects" to apply those ideas in their own cities. Participants report improved self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships and academic success.

Hopefully, Tucson will soon be a City at Peace, because COPA is about to bring the program here. They have almost everything set up--board members, venues, volunteers--they just need some seed money. So on Friday, Sept. 21, they're holding a Peace Day concert to raise funds.

The entertainers to be featured are fittingly diverse, representing different musical styles, backgrounds and age groups. First, there's actor, director, dancer and musician Robert Encila, the former lead singer of Afro-Cuban band Ache Pa' Ti and the choir director at the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew. He's directed more than 40 productions and acted in plays of multiple genres, and has taught theater for the last 16 years. Besides performing at the Peace Day concert, Encila will help run Tucson's City at Peace program as artistic director, along with soon-to-be managing director Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa, the current human relations manager from Tucson's Ward 6 office.

Also to perform is Tucson Area Music Awards winner Arthur Migliazza, a 26-year-old prodigy piano player and composer--and quite a popular boogie-woogie and blues musician. You might have heard him playing around town with the Wayback Machine, George Howard or the 17th Street Band, among others. He's also got his own band, New Town.

Singer-songwriter-pianist Marilyn Harris will bring a little jazz to the evening's event. Described as "most impressive" by L.A. jazz critic Scott Yanow, she's studied composition and film scoring and has done music for everything from TV dramas to theatrical productions. She's even done arrangements for Bette Midler.

Finally, rounding out Friday's program is a Tucson singer and actor who calls himself "Darwin"--a 6-foot-5 baritone with a great voice and magnetic stage presence.

Of course, music isn't all there is to COPA's Peace Day concert--after all, the event is to be held on the U.N. International Day of Peace, a day that's been celebrated worldwide since 1981 to help us remember what peace means and to renew our commitment to it. This Friday, the folks with COPA will treat us to a miniature version of the U.N.'s Day of Peace flag ceremony: Between the acts, the flags of the world will be saluted and "blessed" with peaceful words.

Even if you're not a huge fan of flag ceremonies, the City of Peace program deserves your support, because, according to Straatemeier--who'll be the program's advisory board chair--it could really change Tucson in a big way. Elsewhere, it's proved very successful; visit cpnational.org to see some amazing statistics.

"The idea is that in four to five years, we'd have a lot of young leaders who had confronted their ideas about power and the abuse of power, and they'd be prepared to lead our city toward a positive vision for the way the world ought to be," Straatemeier says. "Instead of letting them get discouraged or in trouble, we need to encourage them to express their vision and make it happen so they can feel empowered--so they are empowered--to lead their community."

COPA's U.N. Day of Peace Concert will occur from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 21, at ArtFare The Muse, 55 W. Sixth Ave. Admission is $15. To buy tickets, make a contribution or volunteer, visit snvtucson.org.

More by Anna Mirocha

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