Ten years later, Let’s Get Connected Day still sending message of peace
CHINA GROVE — In the Bible, Betty Jo Hardy said, seven is “the number of completion.”
But after erecting seven Peace Poles in different parts of Rowan County, and gathering for a decade to celebrate peace and unity, Hardy said the task of promoting understanding is far from finished.
A small crowd gathered, despite rain and clouds, for the 10th annual Let’s Get Connected Day, sponsored by Covenant Community Connection, the group that Hardy chairs.
An offshoot of the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council, the group’s annual events proclaim a simple message of unity, and a wish she said is shared by groups across the planet: “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”
That message is inscribed on the newest Peace Pole in eight languages, including Cherokee, Punjabi, Romanian and Braille.
Saturday, that message was proclaimed aloud in other languages, and through diverse traditions.
Cherokee musicians led the crowd in singing “We n’ de ya ho,” or “I am of the Great Spirit,” and others led hymns including “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Members of local religious communities offered prayers for peace in their own ways, including Christian hymns in English and Spanish, an 18th-century Hebrew chant and a Buddhist prayer, preceded by sparks struck from flint and steel to sanctify the monument.
It was an afternoon of symbolism and celebration, and heartfelt pleas for understanding.
In particular, Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell prayed that God would “bless all of us elected officials … give us wisdom and help us put away all personal agendas.”
Earlier, Blackwell had presented a proclamation honoring the day from Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson, that acknowledged the “deeply personal experience” of prayer and the important role it plays in many diverse cultures.
Blackwell said she has attended each of the annual Let’s Get Connected days.
“I think people like to feel accepted, and this is one event when everyone can feel that way,” Blackwell said.
‘It unifies us’
“Look at the person closest to you,” the Rev. Carolyn Bratton, of Moores Chapel AME Zion Church, Salisbury, told the audience during the program. “Tell them, ‘You have value and you have worth!’”
Throughout the morning, people of different faiths shared their thoughts on peace and unity.
It was not a time of proselytizing, but of celebration.
Imam Hassan Mohamed, a representative of Salisbury’s Muslim community, told a story of Hafez, a 14th-century Persian Sufi poet.
According to the story, Hafez went on a search to find God throughout the world.
“Weary and anxious, he sat, and he looked inside (himself), and he found God,” Mohamed said.
“Believe it or not, you pray much more, and much more often, than you really think,” Mohamed said. “You pray when you do a good deed, and you pray when you do something kind.”
Betsy Rich, of First United Methodist Church, Salisbury, said she came with other local church members to support the event.
“I think it’s very meaningful,” Rich said. “I just wish more people were here.”
Although the weather played a role, Hardy said there are other reasons why the crowd was sparse.
“The idea of an interfaith event doesn’t appeal to everyone,” Hardy said. “There are people who think it is a threat to their faith or their beliefs.”
In Rowan County, she said, political and religious rhetoric has become more divisive and polarizing in recent years.
But, Hardy went on, “I don’t know any religious faith that doesn’t teach peace, and stewardship for our planet, reaching out to our neighbors for the common good of all.”
“So, it doesn’t threaten my Christian faith if a Buddhist prays a prayer of peace, or a Muslim, or a Jewish person,” Hardy said. “It unifies us.”
On the other hand, there was a great deal of involvement among youth.
Of the approximately 50 people present at the conclusion of the ceremony and dedication, many were children and teens.
“We’re out here representing the Youth Council,” said Emma Labovitz, a student at Salisbury High School.
The group, which started in January with 12 “core members,” is an effort to get young people involved, Labovitz said.
“That’s what this program is all about,” she said, “bringing people together, no matter their background, and helping them be the best they can be.”
One thousand cranes
In addition to dedicating the Peace Pole, many gathered to help Yoshiko Otey, wife of the Rev. Fleming Otey, fold paper cranes.
According to a tradition from Tokyo, Japan, a sick person who folds 1,000 paper cranes will get well.
The story became famous in the years after World War II. Sadako Sasaki became ill at age 11 from the aftermath of the use of atomic bombs.
According to the story, Sadako folded 1,000 paper cranes in hopes of being cured. When a friend of hers who was hospitalized became well, she began to fold another 1,000 cranes — a project still unfinished when she died.
When Yoshiko Otey was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, her eldest daughter sent her a box of 1,000 paper cranes.
Soon after, Yoshiko’s condition improved and her cancer was found to be hardly growing at all.
In celebration, participants at Let’s Get Connected Day were given paper cranes folded by the Oteys, along with a sheet of instructions for folding their own.
They also received an address to send back the cranes they fold.
Once the Oteys have collected 1,000 cranes, Fleming Otey said, they will be sent to the Children’s Peace Monument at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
There, they will join thousands of other paper cranes offered by children across Japan and around the world, he said.
In their own way, Hardy said, the seven Peace Poles erected around Rowan County are also an offering — a hope for a better future.
“They’re standing sentinel, now, in four corners of the county and three areas of (Salisbury),” Hardy said.
“I just hope it will inspire somebody, some children, maybe, to value other people ... no matter their origin or their belief system,” Hardy said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.