Bahai News --

Monday, June 2, 2003 11:35 PM

Race Unity Day grows

5 other U.S. cities join in nonpolitical event

By Chuck Nowlen
June 2, 2003

Guoping and Christina Cao and Li Liu take in the Unity Rally Sunday. (Photo by David Sandell)

Backed by ethnic music and dance troupes on a perfect spring afternoon, more than 300 Madison Race Unity Day revelers joined counterparts in five other U.S. cities Sunday to tout nonpolitical action as a path to diversity.

"This is an absolutely nonpolitical, nonpartisan event," organizer Dennis Jenkyns said in an interview shortly before the rally began at the State Capitol around 2 p.m. "Without a political agenda, you end up talking to people who really feel the issue of race and not so much a certain political goal. And we think this is something that has to be addressed not by legislation, but rather by people meeting on a heart-to-heart basis."

National Race Unity Day rallies, begun by the Baha'i Church in 1998, also were held at the same time Sunday in Springfield, Ill.; Indianapolis; Bismarck, N.D.; Pierre, S.D.; and Cheyenne, Wyo.

Sunday marked Madison's second annual event, with last year's inspiring one local participant, a Wyoming native, to help spark this year's first-ever Race Unity Day in her home state, Jenkyns said.

"So what you're seeing is often a catalyst, and maybe that means we'll see something like this nationwide soon," he added. "The biggest challenge, of course, is where do we go from here."

Jenkyns mentioned formal multi-day follow-up discussion groups in each city as one possibility.

American Indian dancer Art Shegonee, whose Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company co-sponsored the Madison rally and who spoke Sunday in full tribal costume, predicted that the rally's impact would increase over time.

"This is how it should have been long ago. But it's happening now, and we should be thankful," Shegonee said of the multicultural crowd. "Now we have future generations to teach this to, and when they see it, they'll know peace, balance and harmony as it should be."

Music by white, black, Latino, American Indian and East Indian performers gave Sunday's rally its heartbeat, with eight multicultural troupes also contributing traditional dances.

Shegonee's group climaxed the rally around 4 p.m. by leading a circle dance in which scores in the crowd joined hands.

Madison Mayor David Cieslewicz, whose political career was initially based on environmental issues, compared the rally to a natural ecosystem.

"One thing I have learned from the environment is that there is strength in diversity; the weakest kind of ecological systems are monocultures," he said. "And I think that lesson from the natural world applies to human communities as well."

Added Steve Braunginn, president of the Madison Urban League: "Over the years, what has been done to the human race is that we've turned it into a political race ... for the purpose of identifying us to meet the political needs of those in power. ... This is simply the human race. This is who we really are."

E-mail: Published: 9:56 AM 6/02/03

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