Kiran Singh Sirah is a folklorist, poet and president of the International Storytelling Center. He heads the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee—the oldest festival of its kind in the world and a driving force behind the renaissance in storytelling. Kiran talks about creating community through stories, the ability of story to transcend petty politics and connect us to what is essential.
All the training I’ve had as a Rotary Peace Fellow, a storyteller, folklorist, and as an educator has taught me to think about how important it is to try to leave the world a better place than it was when we found it. Those of you that know me will also know that before I was born, my own parents fled their home under threat of genocide. This is why I am alive today and why i support genocide prevention. So it was a no brainer for me when a couple of years ago, some DC based colleagues asked if I could help tell a story of an important piece of bipartisan legislation designed to build peace and prevent murders and atrocities all over the world.
Since I live in Tennessee, I decided to reach out to Senator Bob Corker’s staff (chairman of foreign relations committee) and after some phone calls and emails a meeting was set up at the Senate building in our nation’s capital to discuss this initiative. I was invited to attend but found myself facilitating that roundtable meeting which just so happened to take place one week after the 2016 US national elections.
I led a story circle, told some personal stories about peace, encouraging the group to tell theirs. The participants were people that came from different backgrounds, belief systems, faith and political affiliations. We all shared stories and found common ground. I remember walking away feeling as though it might have been some of the most important work I’d ever done.
Since that time, I’ve kept up with the progress on that initiative and I’m pleased to report that the initiative named in honor of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, was passed by both the House and Senate! The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act received an overwhelming 367 to 4 vote and was signed into law by the President on January 14, 2019.
Building peace and preventing genocide should always be a cause that goes beyond political affiliation or nation. In the memory of everyone around the world who has died by genocide, we must try to come together to support prevention and peace efforts in any way we can. I’m grateful to have played even just a small role in this grassroots initiative, to not only save the lives of Americans but people around the world.
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