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©Debra Schell/ 2013

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Peace Day Phillystarted two years ago. It was a small, local idea, spurred by a global initiative to celebrate and embrace peace in the world. I was one year old in 1981, when Peace Day was adopted unanimously through a United Nations Resolution. It stated that the day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and all people. Twenty-eight years later, in 2009, the United States Senate passed a resolution in support of Peace Day, encouraging Americans to observe the initiative and raise awareness of the need for peaceful resolution of conflicts of all kinds. I’m always questioning, why is there war? What is the reason for all this unrest? Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t there be peace? That’s a big part of why I went into photojournalism, and why I continue to produce photojournalism work, even when I’m no longer employed with a newspaper, or work as a freelancer for local publications. I have a passion for documenting people and that is why I was interested in participating in this project, Focus on Peace: A Local Day of Photography, an International Day of Peace.

I recently joined the American Society of Media Photographers and participated in discussions with the Philadelphia chapter. That’s how I first became aware of Peace Day.
I went to Peace Day with plans to photograph, but found myself drawn into some of the other events. I attended a lecture at Drexel University on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The lecture, a part of Peace Teach-In, was one of a series of workshops dedicated to the education of promoting peace initiatives. This was more of an informational event for me, and helped me to see some work others are doing to promote peace in our society. I viewed photographs from last year’s Peace Day on exhibit at the university, which helped me in trying to create a vision for what my photographs would demonstrate, or document. I also attended a lecture and discussion of Eric Mencher’s work that evening, and the suggestions he made about using Iphone apps came in handy when I was out in Philly during Peace Day. Still unsure of specifically what I would do for the project, I just started photographing during several events between Friday, Sept. 20 and Saturday, Sept. 21. I attended “What Can You Do for Peace?” Friday evening. The event was held at Hawthorn Park in Philly. Several people spoke that night, encouraging the crowd to repeat the words “Positive,” and “Peaceful.”
International performer Farah Siraj, named Jordan’s “Musical Ambassadress” and called the ‘Nora Jones of the Middle East’ sang several songs, in several languages, during the event.
Later I contacted her to ask about some song lyrics and she sent me a few from songs she sang that night, translated into English. “If I am of the earth Then everywhere is my home And everyone is my family” To the women of Darfur: “We have not forgotten you We have not forgotten your sufferingWe have not forgotten your rights And your children’s rights” “I see patience and strength in your eyes” “The wind of your land brings a cry It mourns the beautiful days of the past And longs for days of peace ahead”Of these, the one that struck me the most, was the following: “What if one day I would see? You could have been me Then we wouldn’t be so far Then I wouldn’t stand for this war”It is profound, and goes directly back to my years growing up, questioning why I was so lucky to have been raised in a loving home and being safe from harm. So I knew that the photographs I made of her that night, while at the park, would be an important component to this photo project.Not only did her words speak to me [after I knew the lyrics] but music does something words can’t do.Music transforms language and culture. I think that’s why music was so important to incorporate into Peace Day events.Live music has also been a passion of mine, and I’ve recently been dedicating my time to meeting local musicians in the Harrisburg area to learn their stories. I documented several of these stories in my series of local musician interviews in a ‘Q&A’ style format.Although I didn’t talk to the musicians that night, I made sure to follow up and get the names of band members in the Peace Day Philly Band. The group of musicians got together just for that event, just for that evening, and performed songs and using lyrics specific to Peace Day.“Peace is Possible. Peace is a possibility that begins with you and me.”The night was a profound one, demonstrating the community’s dedication, support, and awareness of peace.I left feeling cheerful, positive, and excited for the day that follows, Peace Day.
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