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Chicago hosts 12th world summit of Nobel laureates

By Rima Thompson
On April 1, 2012

As Chicago prepares to host the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates April 23-25 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, held an informative roundtable session with select journalists from local schools and universities Feb. 29.

The roundtable served as a forum to give voice to the attending journalists, who, as representatives of the next generation, would take the message "Speak Up, Speak Out for Justice and Rights" to their respective communities.

"The idea of the summit is that we do want a more just and peaceful world, and all of us can make a difference," said Kennedy. "It's a summit that is really oriented towards the next generation. So, the primary audience is high school and college students."

Kennedy said Chicago was chosen because of its communities' activism against social injustice. It has the most Nobel winners than any national or international city, and it affords the laureates an opportunity to interact with local students.

Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Community of Peace People in Northern Ireland, also participated in the discussion via telephone and expressed her appreciation for being among the laureates at this year's summit.

She said her primary goal in attending the summit is to encourage objectivity from the next generation of activists.

"I think it is very important to try to have as many perspectives on a situation as possible and to try to find out as much facts as possible," said Corrigan-Maguire. "I come from a situation in Northern Ireland where we have a nasty political conflict. If you speak to people here, there are almost always more than one story on one side, and different perspectives on what the problems and solutions are."

The summit will be an integral part of the "Speak Truth to Power" curriculum started last November in Chicago Public Schools. The collaborators met for three days with 20 of Chicago's teachers to develop a new curriculum with lessons educating students on Nobel laureates.

"Dialogue, negotiations and involvement from everyone in the community is the key to solving civil liberties. If those things cannot coincide, then bringing about change will be hard," said Corrigan-Maguire.

The new curriculum teaches students how others have affected changes and things they can do to further a cause that is important to them. Those causes can range from trying to stop bullying, global warming and human trafficking to protesting violence.

"I think the real message of the summit is that one person can make a difference and each of us should try," said Kennedy. "That's what each of the Nobel laureates have done. They've seen some overwhelming problem that most human beings thought was beyond their reach to change. Each of these laureates have managed to bend history, and they've done that by relying on courage. Courage is a gift that every human being carries within them."

Students are then challenged to complete projects on a specific human rights concept. They are taught the related international law, action and rule. Projects can last a day, a few months or into the next school year

"[They can do things] like standing up for farm workers in the U.S. who are being oppressed, trying to stop child labor or trying to stop female genital mutilation. Whatever it is the student finds important, [I want them to try]," said Kennedy.

For the last 12 years, the summit and its laureates have emphasized achieving peace and affecting positive change.

"You can't solve these deep ethnic political problems through militarism, through war with nuclear weapons and guns by removing human rights and civil liberties. It just adds fuel to the fire and the conflict keeps going," said Corrigan-Maguire. "So, we have an important message to the world and it is that non-violence works, violence doesn't," she concluded.

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