Giving peace a chance: Rotary Club works for change with WagePeaceCincy initiative

Effort kicks off Sept. 9, focuses on OTR
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 14:02:38-04

CINCINNATI -- What are the barriers to peace in Cincinnati? What can be done to remove them?

Those are some of the questions the Rotary Club of Cincinnati hopes to get people talking about as part of its WageCincyPeace project.

“We have a very simple mission – make a positive affirmation of peace being the goal we want … and we want to do something about it,” said Sam Schutte, who chairs the WagePeaceCincy committee for the club.

Organizers hope the project could become a model for similar Rotary Club projects in other cities, and also for bringing together millennials and baby boomers for common action.

“The stereotype of Rotary is that it’s a bunch of old men smoking cigars … an old boy’s business club, but that’s not true,” said WagePeaceCincy committee member Russell Smith, the pastor of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church Downtown.

“It’s a group of leaders who want to serve and bless,” he said.

The yearlong initiative kicks off Sept. 9 with a dinner on Celebrations Riverboat and a speech by Paul Chappell, an Army veteran and author of the Road to Peace series of books.

The kickoff continues Sept. 10 with two service projects at Taft High School -- packing clothes for poor children and building a courtyard for the school, which sits in the West End near Over-the-Rhine.

Over-the-Rhine was chosen because it’s touched by so many of the barriers to peace locally, Schutte said. “You have folks driving $200,000 cars in the same place where people are ODing on heroin,” he said.

Over the next 12 months, the project is expected to continue with more service projects and events, plus a major peace event in summer 2017.

The project began when Rotary International, parent of the Tri-State area’s approximately 20 Rotary clubs, offered grants to clubs to bring young professionals together to let them know what Rotary does and talk about a community issue, said WagePeaceCincy committee member Mary Beth Poulimenos.

In February, Schutte applied for and won a $15,000 grant for the Downtown Rotary club to create a peace project. Historically, Rotary International has taken on peace causes, including helping found the United Nations, Downtown club president Jack Stott said.

Cincinnati didn’t seem to have problems related to two other Rotary causes, Schutte said -- the eradication of polio and the provision of clean water. But it does have issues that mitigate against peace.

“I don’t think too many groups in town are saying, ‘We want to move toward a more peaceful society, and how do we do that?’” he said.

Those groups that do talk about peace tend to be “fringier” groups, Smith said.

“We are a larger group … and we can convene a bigger conversation,” he said. There are about 2,000 Rotarians in the Tri-State, Schutte said.

Since the grant was awarded, the country has experienced a lot of violence, he said, including shootings of police and by police, as well as an acrimonious presidential campaign.

One local barrier to peace, the heroin epidemic, has also flared up. That’s a barrier to peace because of the crime and other problems that flow from it, Schutte said.

But he thinks the greatest barrier to peace locally is “people sitting at home, playing Xbox and watching Netflix, and not getting out and talking to people, particularly those of different backgrounds,” he said.

Smith said economic inclusion is another barrier.

“Certain segments of the community do not feel included in the revitalization that’s going on,” he said.

That thought was echoed by Andrea Koverman, program manager for the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Over-the-Rhine, one of the groups the Rotary plans to partner with on WageCincyPeace.

“Poverty is such a driving factor,” she said. “We need to have a just society before we can have a peaceful society.”

The center plans to hold its Third Annual World Peace Festival from 1-5 p.m. Oct. 1 at the World Peace Bell in Newport, with the theme “Peace is a Human Right for All.”

“We’re inviting different cultural and ethnic groups,” Koverman said, in hopes that they will help show how diversity enriches all our lives.

The center has just started talking about a long-term peace initiative of its own, she said, in conjunction with Campaign Nonviolence, a national initiative launched in all 50 states in September 2014.

One of the campaign’s efforts is organizing local communities as nonviolent places, which involves getting a city to address its violence “in all its aspects, structures and systems.”

The center would like to work with other local peace groups to make Cincinnati a nonviolent city, Koverman said.

“We put so much of our resources into war instead of peace,” she said. “What if we put that much money and effort into peace?”