Kansas City Celebrates Visions of Peace at the Crossroads

By Jon Krieg

If you happen to see Ira Harritt of AFSC coming your way in a U-Haul truck, get ready. With oversized signs and banners and tables and even a stage, there’ll likely be some big-time peacemaking filling the streets in no time.

So it was on October 1, 2010 when 25 organizations joined with AFSC to create “Visions of Peace in the Crossroads,” a multi-media festival in the heart of Kansas City’s arts district. A rainbow of musicians sang, storytellers told, poets rhapsodized, young folks paraded, videographers filmed, organizers tabled – all to share their visions of a more peaceful community and world.

Michael Toombs, CEO of Storytellers, Inc. in Kansas City, designed the colorful logo for the festival and watched as participants painted their hands for peace on a 40-foot mural. “We facilitate arts and education in the juvenile justice system as well as in the educational system on the Kansas side of the river,” Michael said of his work. “We bridge curriculum and what the kids need to learn with art so that they are more willing to internalize it.”

According to Michael, the theme and mural design for the Crossroads festival “deals with people coming together, hands coming together, lending a hand toward peace.”

One of the festival participants was Vanessa Johnson, who said she was going to share about the event on Facebook “so that everyone else will see that we do things around here.”  She painted a blue hand with a peace sign on the thumb and the names of herself and her husband.

“Kansas City is a very peaceful place, a good place to raise children,” Vanessa said. “People get along, and I love that. This is home.” She added that her daughter went into the military as a teenager. “She’s almost 30 and now understands some of the things we were trying to tell her before…. She went in the military when Bush was sending people off to war; it was one of my scariest times. But she’s home now.”

Among over a dozen fine performers was Miss Conception, a spoken word artist:

We have a revolution to attend. And it starts tonight, y’all. This is where it begins. I’m telling you, I’ve got the energy, I have come to you if you all are really serious. We really need a breakthrough. See all these stereotypes and sound bytes of our youth are proof that we have a lot of work to do. And our strongest weapon is you.

Even the City of Kansas City got in the act. City Council member Beth Gottstein read a proclamation recognizing AFSC’s role in organizing the event and its goal of inspiring “deeper visions for peace and justice in our world.”

Festival organizers also invited participants to write on pledge cards their answers to the question, “What would a world of justice and peace look like to you?” Among the responses:

"Where race matters but does not count; where war is considered barbaric"  

"The inner grace to see the wonder and mystery in each"

"A world with no judgment, and acceptance and joy in every moment"

"A world free of segregation and predetermined hatred"

"No selfishness beyond one's basic needs"

Please visit AFSC Kansas City on Facebook to continue this sharing of ideas.

In a culture too often intent on suppressing the human spirit, this was one peace festival that overflowed with life-affirming vibes. Who knows what Ira will pull out of the U-Haul next?