SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Maya Soetoro-Ng will be the keynote speaker at the fourth annual benefit of the Justin Wants World Peace (JCWWP) Foundation Feb. 25 at Holman United Methodist Church, beginning at 6 p.m.
Soetoro-Ng serves as director of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Resolution at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The institute emphasizes critical thinking and collaboration to groom leaders to address contemporary and complex issues in Hawaii, the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
She is also co-founder of the Hawaii-based nonprofit, Ceeds of Peace, which creates workshops for educators, families, and community leaders to aid them in strengthening their communities and enriching the lives of children.
Soetoro-Ng comes from a family where peace building is a familial trait. She is the half-sister of former President Barack Obama. She has chosen the role of educator as a way to make a meaningful difference in humanity.
She served as a high school history teacher for several years and her passion to teach came from her desire to use history as a means of becoming more humane and humanitarian. As a teacher, she found herself teaching students about social justice and civil liberty issues, but it was not until she began her work in Hawaii that she began to think of it as peace education.
“Peace broadly encompasses subjects as diverse as alternative dispute resolution, restorative justice, civil rights, international human rights, personal peace and more and so many of us can teach peace when we are also teaching social studies, literature, health, economics and so on,” Soetoro-Ng explains. “My hope is that many educators who don’t think of themselves as peace educators, will come to see peace building as a central mission and commitment.”
Soetoro-Ng is speaking at the local event as a friend of the founders of Justin Wants World Peace Foundation, Susan and Darryl Carr.
The JWWP Foundation was established in memory of high school athlete and scholar Justin Carr, who died from an undetected heart condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 2013 at the age of 16. The name for the foundation was inspired by a prayer for peace that Justin had voiced since he was 4 years old.
As keynote speaker of the foundation’s fourth benefit, Soetoro-Ng will discuss Justin Carr’s life, his upbringing and how he serves as an “exemplar of how we want our children to be resilient and morally courageous lovers of peace,” Soetoro-Ng said.
She also will share stories, exchange ideas and plans of action that Los Angeles communities can engage in to bring peace to their communities. By including tools taken from her Ceeds of Peace workshop, Soetoro-Ng hopes to inspire those in the audience to take action to empower their communities.
“Bringing change is more than voting,” Soetoro-Ng said. She said that true change and peace can be achieved through “participatory and transformative” leadership.
Acts of service, giving, people working together and finding common ground are a few actions lined out by Soetoro-Ng that can foster changes in communities.
She urges community members to discover what resources they have to create communities that are both sustainable and resilient. She said that resilience is vital to building a peace that is sustainable.
“Resilient young people are strong enough to raise their voices, to challenge injustice, to support those in need,” Soetoro-Ng said. “Resilient communities contain individuals prepared to serve, engage, support and protect others.”
She encourages community members to see themselves as peacebuilders and to be aware that they have power in civic engagement.
Soetoro-Ng recalls a summer during the late 1980s that she spent with her brother, Barack, in which he took her to visit colleges and with him as he worked voter registration booths and engaged in community organizing. She said that moments like those allowed her to see the power in connecting people “through stories and words and the grassroots opportunities and initiatives that bolstered them.”
She said the importance of peace and unity was instilled in her and her brother by their mother, Ann Dunham, whose method of teaching she described as being expansive.
“She looked for opportunities to teach us the philosophy, theology, literature, culture and perspectives of distant others,” Soetoro-Ng said. “When we feel real connection and kinship with others, we begin to act responsibly and compassionately toward them and we desperately need this kind of learning that builds bridges rather than shuts doors.”
When asked about conflict resolution in the current political climate, Soetoro-Ng shared that it is important to retain a sense of optimism and buoyancy in the midst of political frustration. She said it is not enough to express dissatisfaction but one must lend support and collaborate with one another to combat the issues that people are most passionate about.
Benefit tickets to hear Soetoro-Ng are $20 for adults and $10 for youth 17 and under. They are available online at jcwwpbenefit.bpt.me until midnight Feb. 24.
For additional information, call (424) 257-5297.