As I arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, I felt excited to be part of Peace Day Philly. I wanted to capture amazing people who were showing their support for peace. My plan was to photograph the “Global Minute for Peace” that was being held at Independence Mall between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
I found myself arriving late and talking to find volunteers wearing white t-shirts with the Peace Day Philly logo on them.
I stopped to talk to them about their initiative, bringing people together on this day to celebrate peace.
We chatted about the events going on and I decided that I wanted to go to an event titled “Totally Awesome” – an Intercultural Performance at the Free Library in Center City. The description is what intrigued me to attend.
“Exciting mix of International stories explores the values of self-esteem, honesty, and friendship.”
During the library performance, which was geared towards kids, David Gonzalez spoke about peace.
Instead of lecturing, David engaged his young audience with a unique storytelling style, snapping his fingers and repeating the same phrase until all of the kids were snapping and chanting with him. They repeated the phrase with him as they laughed at his facial expressions.
David shared stories of wizards and lions. He told tales of courage and bravery. He talked about forgiveness and kindness.
“We can always stop and listen to our hearts,” David said.
I photographed David and captured his interesting storytelling style on video.
(I’ll provide the link to the video when it is completed.)
After David’s presentation, the children filed out of their seats, returning to the world with a positive message in their heads and a sense of peace in their hearts.
Irene Wright, library director in charge of scheduling the event, said that she thought his presentation would be a wonderful way to be a part of Peace Day Philly.
“He is a wonderful storyteller and it was geared towards children and peace, making him a good fit for today,” Wright said.
The next event I planned to photograph was the “Sing-A-Long for Peace” at Rittenhouse Square in Center City. The event is usually held in the south-west corner of the square, but due to the art show going on at the same time, Peace Day Philly organizers contacted the 9th Police District and asked them to tape off Rittenhouse Street, which they did.
The sing-a-long gathers peace supporters to “sing out for peace” and is a vocal expression of love and peace.
Songs included: “Down By The Riverside,” which was modified for Peace Day Philly.
“I’m gonna sing out for Philly peace, down by the river side … I ain’t gonna study war no more.”
Hugh Taft-Morales, Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, led the sing-a-long. He was on the Peace Day Philly committee for 2011 and 2012, and this year he was an advisory member.
I followed up with Hugh later about the events of Peace Day and asked him why he was involved in the sing-a-long.
He referred me to a speech he made last year to members of the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia during an event. He said his growth into peace activism was drawn from his experiences as a teen during the Vietnam War. Hugh summarized the speech below.
“I was moved by the universality of the anti-war movement and the passion involved,” he said.
“Through years of teaching high school, the madness of wars oozed out of my many conversations with students. To the young, the evil of war is so clear. I became more aware of how much war is a result of greed and the quest for profit.”
He talks about Peace Day Philly in 2012 and walking in Rittenhouse Square while doing meditation and singing.
“With each step, I thought to myself, “I breathe in peace. I breathe out anger. I breathe in peace. I breathe out frustration.” Hugh did this during this year’s event and continues to be a voice of peace.
The local chapter of “Grannies For Peace” attended the sing-a-long. The group is part of a larger National organization standing for human rights and justice. The group’s mission is to oppose war, occupation, rendition, torture, and the violence of poverty and racism. The group says (on the website) they are committed to making a safe and peaceful world for all the children and grandchildren in the world.
“Grannies For Peace” Philadelphia Chapter Member Lois Dorso attended the sing-a-long and brought her grandson, Alexander Wierciszewski, 14, of Philadelphia.
During the event, Alexander read a rap song with lyrics about peace.
Later, I asked Alex about the song.
“I came up with the lyrics for the song by reading articles about drones,” he said.
Alex said it took him a few months to write the song.
“I’m passionate about peace because of all the things that have been going on recently; the Navy yard shooting; the 2013 Boston Marathon; Sandy Hook shooting; and the Trayvon Martin case.” He said he hopes to write and preform music in support of peace in the future.
As people danced and sang, the wind started to pick up. I noticed the sky start to turn from blue-, to grey. I realized that the last event I wanted to photograph might not be possible if a storm started, so after talking to a few volunteers, I left to photograph the final part of the day.
Conceived by Artist Peter Quinn, “American Casualties” was a project to visually capture the total number of people killed by homicidal gun violence in the U.S. from the beginning of the year to Sept. 21.
On Peace Day, members of the community and visitors were asked to make chalk outlines of their bodies on the streets of Philly.
JFK Boulevard closed for the American Casualties project, according to Lisa Parker, PDP founder and organizer.
“Quinn wrote the Deputy Mayor, who sent his letter to the Mayor. Quinn met with the Mayor who endorsed the activity and OKed the street shut down,” Parker said. She said that the mayor also approved a crane on JFK for the artist to take photos of the project.
JFK Boulevard became the canvas for the visual representation of the victims of gun violence. According to reports, at least 7,828 people have been killed since January 1, 2013. A candlelight vigil was planned for the evening, but was cancelled, – due to reports of storms passing through Philly.
I made it in time to create images of the artwork just as the evening light left and darkness took over. After creating the images, it was time to go home, after a long – but peaceful day.
Parker told me that in addition to the events I covered, The Philadelphia Police Department offered over 40 events through districts across the city on Friday 9/20 (they did Friday instead of Sat because they have more staff Friday and because they do a number of the programs in schools), including a march for peace in the 22nd district (the area of the city with the most gun related homicides). Activities ranged from anti-bullying talks to vigils to discussions with elderly residents about their concerns to a block party.
For more photos, go to my website.