United Peacekeepers

Peace Walk 2002 hopes to light a flame for enlightenment.



Something's happening in Memphis. Something's happening in our world.

-- from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Mountaintop" speech, April 3, 1968

Indeed, something will be happening in Memphis from September 27th to October 2nd as Peace Walk 2002 kicks off at the National Civil Rights Museum. Organizers are hoping its impact will be felt around the world.

What started as a collaborative idea between the local Buddhist community and members of Life Foundation International has blossomed into Memphis' first Peace Walk. The walk is actually a five-day event that features the installation of the flame, a silent walk around Overton Park with global peacemakers, a concert, a day filled with various inner-peace workshops, and a speech in honor of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

"When we say Peace Walk, we don't mean peace in any political way, as in peace versus war. It's really been planned a long time before the current political events in our country," says Linda Ross, a member of the Peace Walk's steering committee. "All of [the events] are giving you different techniques for establishing your own inner peace, because that's how peace will ultimately come in the world."

The weekend will begin at the National Civil Rights Museum with this country's first installation of the World Peace Flame, which was originally lit at a peace conference in Wales in 1998. One flame was lit on each continent by a leading peacemaker and flown to Wales for the conference, where the master flame was lit.

Since then, the flame has been given out in the form of a candle to people around the world, including Pope John Paul II and singer Emmy Lou Harris. The flame's first permanent installation took place April 18th at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. On September 27th, Memphis will become the flame's next home.

"We're planning to light the flame beneath the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. In essence, the light was extinguished when he was killed so many years ago, so we're lighting his flame again," says Ross.

The flame will later be moved inside the museum's lobby, where it will be displayed on a brass base designed by Tennessee artists Anton Weiss and Lisa Jennings. The museum is putting together a program in which various groups will come in to feed the flame.

The following day, the Peace Walk will be held at Overton Park. Participants in the silent, meditative one-mile walk will be led by Zen master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Life Foundation founder Mansukh Patel, spiritual leader Chalanda Sai Ma, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Church Dr. Frank Thomas, and Arun Gandhi, author and grandson of the late Mahatma Gandhi.

The walk will be followed by a silent "mindful lunch" at the Overton Park Shell. The local Vietnamese community will be providing 1,000 vegetarian lunches, but participants may bring their own lunches.

After lunch, a peace concert at the shell will feature Sai Ma, various singer-songwriters from around the world, local church youth choirs, and a German didgeridoo player. Several artists will be performing music written exclusively for the event.

Later that night, Nhat Hanh, who is credited with galvanizing the peace movement after persuading Dr. King to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, will address the crowd on the act of dwelling within the moment. Forty-three monks and nuns will perform a toning chant in preparation for his speech.

On Sunday, there will be several workshops on achieving inner peace. Nhat Hanh will offer a daylong mindfulness gathering, and Louise Rowan of the Life Foundation will host a workshop on Dru Yoga, a form of the ancient discipline that's supposed to remove negative emotion.

On October 2nd, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, Patel and the Life Foundation's European director, Savitri MacCuish, will speak on regaining inner strength and security at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Several other events are planned for the days leading up to the Peace Walk. On September 25th, Love Fest 2002, a concert featuring local musical acts Blind Mississippi Morris and Bella Sun, is scheduled for the Overton Park Shell. The concert, which was organized by Memphian Andy Diggs to benefit Thich Nhat Hanh, will feature nine bands, several DJs, and an open jam. The following day, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center will host a Drum Circle for Peace and Healing at Prescott Memorial Baptist Church.

"As the Bible says, 'When two or more are gathered ... .' There's going to be a large group of people here with the same intent, and I think that it can't help but help the city," says Ross. "I think that it will reach out to our entire country -- hopefully, the world."

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