Rotary International President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson presents Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with a Paul Harris Fellowship recognition medal in April during the Rotary Presidential Peace Forum in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
The 2007-08 Rotary peace train engineered by RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson made its last stop 24-27 April in the border city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Earlier stops on the peace tour included conferences in Bulgaria, France, Kenya, and Turkey, but the Windsor forum was special because it was Wilkinson’s last major meeting in his homeland as RI president.
Aboard was keynote speaker Robert F. Kennedy Jr., named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet,” who reminded those at the year’s final Rotary Presidential Peace Forum: “We must protect our environmental infrastructure in order to achieve peace and justice. The value systems that unite humanity are rooted in nature.”
Kennedy accepted two Paul Harris Fellow recognitions — one for himself and one for his father, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1968 — from Past RI Director Michael McCullough, who said, “Mr. Kennedy, you are one of us.”
Fittingly, the conference was open to the public, drawing hundreds of area residents from both sides of the Detroit River. “We’ve flung the doors wide open and invited the community to be involved as well,” said Jennifer Jones, conference host and governor of binational District 6400, prior to a parade of about 150 national flags celebrating the diversity of the Windsor-Detroit area.
“This very conference, held along the world’s longest, undefended border, is a testimony to peace,” said Wilkinson, who throughout the weekend emphasized that world peace is the ultimate goal of all of Rotary’s humanitarian and educational efforts.
“These are the real issues that drive war and peace,” he said. “And when we work on these daily issues, we have a direct impact on the peace and stability of the world.”
But the obstacles to lasting peace are many and difficult. “We say that peace is possible, but it is also very daunting,” cautioned Honorary Chair Allan Rock, Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who led a panel that included Jordan’s U.S. Ambassador Prince Zeid Ra’ad and former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minster Lloyd Axworthy. The three discussed a list of threats that include nuclear proliferation, Middle East instability, terrorism, global warming, uninspired national leadership, and the myriad social, economic, and political problems facing many African nations.
Fortunately, Rotary is helping prepare the next generation of leaders to confront such challenges through its two peace studies initiatives: the Rotary Centers for International Studies and the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies program. In a session led by Eddie Blender, chair of the Rotary Centers Major Gifts Initiative, four Rotary peace studies alumni described their experiences. “There is nothing like the Peace Centers program going on in the world today,” said Lee-Anne Mulholland, an attorney from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a 2006 graduate of the Rotary Center program at the University of California-Berkeley. She now practices human rights litigation for a major international law firm.
As the peace forum concluded with a lively interfaith service of music and song, followed by Kennedy’s keynote, Wilkinson waited for the applause to settle before offering: “I’ve got an idea -- Let’s just move all of this down to Los Angeles for the Convention and share the message!”