The Case for Dialogue: Living the Culture of Peace in 2020

October 21, 2020
Alumni panelists bio photo collage
Mitsue Yamamoto Pembroke ’06, Leonard Bogdonoff ’11, Jennifer Cook ’11, and Anna Taeko Casals Fernandez ’18

Mitsue Yamamoto Pembroke ’06 once invited three government representatives who’d objected to a project to meet for tea to discuss how they could work together to achieve their individual visions. Another time, she organized a structured dialogue among relevant groups after a protest directed at her office.

Pembroke, deputy regional program coordinator at the International Organization for Migration, UN Migration Agency in Nairobi, Kenya, was one of four Soka alumni who spoke at the 7th Annual Dialogue on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence about how they have used the power of dialogue in their work.

“I believe dialogue with action is about respect,” said Pembroke, “but also the courage to be open and vulnerable.”

This year’s dialogue, “Living the Culture of Peace in 2020,” was held virtually on Oct. 2 due to the pandemic. The event commemorated the spirit of the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace. It also honored the vision of SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda and Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former under secretary general and high representative of the United Nations, for their lifelong commitment to building a culture of peace that has provided the inspiration for the annual dialogues.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Weiner opened the event, and moderator Tetsushi Ogata, visiting assistant professor of peace and conflict studies, noted that one benefit of the pandemic was that people from all over the globe could attend. Students, staff, and faculty joined the event from across the US, as well as countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Japan, Russia, Somalia, Taiwan, and Venezuela.

Ogata asserted the importance of putting SUA’s founding principles into action during this challenging year. “Now is the time when we need a culture of peace, more than ever, because our society faces significant challenges,” he said. “But it is also true that when we need a culture of peace, such an ideal seems to be drifting further away from us.”

The speakers who followed Ogata each reflected on how SUA’s liberal arts education contributed to their own efforts in building a culture of peace during both a global health crisis and a time of social upheaval.

After Mitsue described her experiences of “having dialogue with people who did not seek dialogue initially,” Leonard Bogdonoff ’11, chief technology officer and co-founder of Milk video in New York, discussed his experiences working in the tech field.

Bogdonoff, who has worked in the private and public sectors, and said he has a particular passion for connecting art and technology, observed that Soka taught him to see even worldly pursuits like power, wealth, and fame as opportunities “to seek new values” by learning from people who are different from you and using one’s creativity to impact the world.

Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jennifer Cook ’11 described experiencing inequalities in the classroom firsthand as a mixed-race person. Cook is now lead learning behavior specialist at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago, and emphasized the importance of engaging in dialogue with the youth “on what it means to exist,” which, for her, is the basis of “creating values in the classroom.”

Anna Taeko Casals Fernandez ’18, a consultant at the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration, UN Migration Agency, described her personal journey toward becoming an agent of change. Originally from Barcelona, Spain, Fernandez said her Soka education taught her that dialogue is not about “drawing differences, but finding commonalities.” She uses that as a guide at work, giving attendees examples of how the lesson of “respect” translates into concrete practices.

The event closed with attendees, stimulated by the speakers’ stories, enjoying a Q&A about how each could embody global citizenship’s virtues in their own lives during this unprecedented time.