NEW YORK | It was an evening 1,106 days in the making, and a moment worth a pause.
“Let me just take it all in,” Bobbie Gottschalk said, looking at the two-dozen Seeds who had joined her onstage to receive the John P. Wallach Peacemaker Award at the 2022 Spring Benefit Dinner.
With an air of hope, homecoming, and purpose, the Seeds of Peace Spring Benefit Dinner returned on May 10, bringing together more than 200 alumni, supporters, and dignitaries for the first time since before the pandemic began.
In addition to honoring Bobbie for 29 years (and counting!) of service to Seeds of Peace, the organization awarded its first Trailblazer Award to Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen, who was, unfortunately, unable to attend the event in person after testing positive for COVID-19 just before the evening’s start.
It was a reminder that as the pandemic stretches on, there is no corner of the globe left untouched by conflict, injustice, or divisions over the past two-and-a-half years. And yet, despite the devastating impact, the more than 8,000 alumni of Seeds of Peace are standing as beacon of hope for a more just and inclusive future.
“It is that light that keeps me going. That light is why I am standing here,” said Amer Kamal, a 1997 Palestinian Seed who co-hosted the event with fellow board member Anna Tunkel, a 1995 Israeli Seed.
The duo stepped in for fellow Board Member Ali Velshi, who had to forgo hosting the event after he was called to report on the war in Ukraine for MSNBC. In doing so, Anna and Amer underscored that the idea of peace looks different today than when they were campers, and yet, Anna said: “the mission and work of Seeds of Peace is more relevant and urgent today than ever before.
“Skills of empathy, dialogue, cross-cultural understanding, embracing and celebrating differences are instilled in teens in Seeds of Peace programs … These skills are as relevant in classrooms as they are in boardrooms, political offices, arts and culture and media today. These skills help us build a more resilient, equitable, and just future.”
Throughout the evening, supporters were given glimpses of how Seeds of Peace is supporting young leaders to rise to the challenges of an increasingly divided and complex world. This included a preview of the Kitnay Duur, Kitnay Paas South Asia Film Project—a program funded by the U.S. State Department that brought together 42 young filmmakers in India and Pakistan to make eight films highlighting the two countries’ commonalities.
“This project is a testimony that artists need to be brought more into the loop when it comes to peacemaking,” said Haya Fatima Iqbal, an Academy Award-winning mentor on the project. “Often times we’re the people that will make you think about something crazy, and then will make you believe in something crazy, and then will make you do crazy things—crazy good things.”
The notion of change taking everyone—be it youth, or those who work in the arts, business, or any field—was a common theme throughout the night. Jacqueline Novogratz, who delivered her keynote speech virtually after learning just before the dinner that she had tested positive for COVID-19, called on the audience to continue doing their part to work for a world that is more just for all.
“Peace is the presence of human flourishing,” she said. “It starts with each of us asking not how rich, or how powerful or how famous I can be, but what am I doing today to instill another person with confidence. How can each of us every day think about giving back more to the world than we take?”
Representing the next chapter of Seeds of Peace, Danielle Whyte, a 2018 Seed from Maine and returning 2022 Camp staffer, said that she and her peers are aware of the steep divisions and challenges ahead, but through their Seeds of Peace experiences, are ready and able to begin leading that change.
“Seeds of Peace was where we turned our whispers for change into shouts,” she said. “It empowered us to see that we are radiant, that our voices were revolutionary, and that revolution is now.”