Unification News for April 1997

Interracial Sisterhood Project Holds First High School Bridge of Peace Ceremony

by Paula Fujiwara-Los Angeles, CA

The Cerritos Park East Community Center Auditorium in Cerritos, California was the venue for 175 girls from the five high schools of the ABC Unified School District to become Sisters of Peace on Friday, March 21, 1997. It was the second interracial Bridge of Peace ceremony held since the initial ceremony involving 350 women at the Los Angeles Convention Center last Oct. 5.

One Leads to Another

Roberta Brown, one of the organizers of the Oct. 5 event, invited her friend Dianne Stonbraker to become a Sister of Peace, knowing that Stonbraker, a teacher a Artesia High School, would be inspired. She and her husband are founders of the Artesia High Rainbow League, which is dedicated to building a school community in which all students benefit from the rich cultural diversity in an environment of peace and harmony. Last November, the Women's Federation for World Peace, co-sponsor of the Interracial Sisterhood Project, held a bridge ceremony for Japanese and American women. After participating on Oct. 5, Stonbraker brought a delegation of principals and teachers from her district to the November ceremony so they could catch the spirit of the bridge. By the end of last year, Stonbraker and her colleagues began to plan the first high school ceremony, which became a reality on the first day of spring during Women's History Month. Even with the vision and inspiration, Stonbraker wasn't so sure it could happen: "I didn't think it could happen. I never thought we could pull the resources together to do it. It's so impressive to see the girls here now. I hope (the sisterhood ceremony) provides a pathway to them of more understanding. I'm just thrilled."

Making History Again

The March 21 event was a success because of dedicated volunteers, donations of resources and the collaboration of the ABC Unified School District, the City of Cerritos and the Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California. Every participant contributed to the profound significance of the ceremony. The Mistress of Ceremonies, activist- author Victoria Wilson-Darrah, whose father was martyred trying to reconcile warring factions in Uganda, opened the program by remarking: "The miracle workers of our time will be those who are willing to put themselves on the line to courageously create new relationships which can heal the scars of the past. I believe it's time we dare to build a new community of heart. This is an historic day. We are pioneers!" Brian Buckhorn of the Oklahoma Dance Troupe then performed the Cherokee Hoop Dance and Victory Dance accompanied on drum by John Kioa. The configuration of the hoops conveyed the unmistakable message that we are one human family. Their performance received a standing ovation.

Official Recognition

Four present and past mayors of Cerritos and a local judge and his wife were on hand to congratulate the participants and offer an official proclamation from the city, one of the most culturally diverse communities in the nation. The first woman mayor of Cerritos, Diana Needham, offered her advice on how to reach across the racial divide: through "family integration" including adoption and interracial marriage, which has brought about positive change in her own family as well as through travel and job experience. "It really changes you," Needham said. "You don't like it (racial discrimination) not just from the head but from the heart." Judge Lee Tipton spoke

about his wife and himself joining the Peace Corps after law school. While serving in Uganda they adopted an Ugandan orphan. He remarked that tolerance is not enough to overcome hostility towards those who are different; there must be active involvement in each other's life. Mayor Bruce Barrows then read the proclamation.

Spirit of the Ceremony

The focal point of the occasion was an actual bridge, the same bridge used for past interracial and international "Bridge of Peace" ceremonies in the Los Angeles area, sponsored by the Interracial Sisterhood Project and the Women's Federation for World Peace. Vocalists T. Renee Crutcher and Miyuki Harley joined together on the bridge to perform "Love Can Build a Bridge."

Mrs. Sheri Rueter, chairwoman of the Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California and head of the L. A. chapter of Women's Federation for World Peace, then addressed the participants. She spoke poignantly about how "real love" can heal the resentment of the past and that only women have the courage and ability to lead humankind into an era of reconciliation and harmony: "In truth we have always hurt each other.... Then how can we have hope? What is the solution? A big and beautiful heart! It takes an ability to forgive and it takes an ability to love. We need to begin by making a real commitment to be there for each other. This bridge and our crossing over it has the power to change us.... We can create a model for young people and...stand as a beacon of hope."

The 175 girls, who had been paired through the registration process, then formed long lines at each end of the bridge and proceeded to bow and greet their new "sister of peace" with an embrace and exchange of flowers at the center of the bridge, accompanied by the strains of "Let There Be Peace On Earth."

To conclude the ceremony, actress-activist Ms. Donzaleigh Abernathy spoke to the girls. As the daughter of Ralph Abernathy, her family and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s family were the first to integrate schools in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, as a Hollywood actress, she realizes that she has become a role model. "I was taught that you have to break (racism and intolerance) down with love. You all are the ones to change this world. You all don't know how beautiful you are. You all are going to have to turn things around." Abernathy closed by quoting Rev. King: "If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl; but by all means, keep moving!"

"Sisterships" Bloom Over Lasagna

The male members and advisors of the Rainbow League, decked out in tuxedos, prepared and served a tasty luncheon. Raven Baines of Artesia High sang "Wind Beneath My Wings." Eleven-year-old pianist Jena Eisenberg played classical dining music while her mother Linda directed the production crew. District high school dance troupes performed Chinese, Mexican and Filipino dances. All this as the new interracial pairs of girls talked excitedly and exchanged photos. Some of the girls shared reflections about their experience. "I think we're going to bond a lot more and we're going to show respect for other cultures and be more open from now on," said Tanesha Jordan of Artesia High. Janiece Samuel and Vicky Wong of Gahr High became sisters and had this to say: "Today is a very important day to me; I'm learning a lot about other people and having a very good time with my sister," shared Janiece. Vicky added, "I'm glad you gave me a chance to get to know Janiece because we go to the same school but hardly talked till now." Pearl Lee, Angela Iannessa and Christie Crumbo of Artesia High put in the most time recruiting and pairing the girls. "It's neat to see how the whole ceremony worked out," said Christie. "It wasn't what I was expecting; it was like better! Nobody could take the smile off my face when I was watching it.... It's something I'm proud of. It's something I can say: I did that."

The joy of accomplishment for the sake of peace and harmony was thick in the air and, in a last celebratory fling, the young and agile danced the Macarena.

The sponsors want to encourage other schools and communities to organize their own bridge of peace ceremonies in order to realize diverse communities growing in peace.

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