From the UN podium to the State Department: behind the scenes on the Visionary of the Year tour.
We are a full week and four cities down on our coast-to-coast Visionary of the Year Speaking Tour, and it's clear that the message the Zuhal Sultan is sharing is resonating in a deep way with her audiences.CONNECTIONS THROUGH MUSICHer first presentation was in the Interfaith Chapel on the River Campus of the University of Rochester, to an intimate group of students, religion faculty, and several Euphrates visitors who made the drive. The hosting was gracious, and we appreciated the opportunity to meet a fellow URI Cooperation Circle.Zuhal connected with a very talented violinist at the Eastman School of Music, Wendy Toh, to rehearse just hours before they performed prior to the evening talk at Ciminelli Lounge on the Eastman Campus. They both did beautifully, setting the stage for Zuhal's second talk of the day, this time to a very musically-minded crowd. Lots of questions about (the lack of) music education in schools in Iraq, as well as learning more about how the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq commissions two pieces each year by Iraqi composers (one Arab, one Kurd) specifically for the orchestra. Despite the on-and-off pouring rain, a lovely day amid the tree-lined streets and ivy and brick campus buildings in Rochester.Then it was off to New York City!EMPOWERING YOUTHThe main event in New York came on Monday, September 21, the International Day of Peace. Zuhal had the honor of being selected to moderate the Youth Conference in honor of this day at the United Nations Headquarters. Standing outside on the steps early in the morning, waiting to be let through security under the billowing flags, felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Filing into the conference room, we were soon greeted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who addressed Zuhal and her work with the orchestra in his opening remarks. Dr. Jane Goodall, Michael Douglas, Herbie Hancock, and Yo-Yo Ma (all UN Messengers of Peace) addressed the audience with inspiring remarks. The takeaway: that youth all over the world deserve a seat at the table - deserve to be a part of the negotiating process, of paving the road to peace.As Zuhal and Yo-Yo Ma talked and laughed together up at the moderator's desk, the "best of the best" of Korean Taekwando practitioners wowed us with their focus, strength, and the volume of their yelling! It was a surreal moment when the Euphrates logo flashed onto the "big screen" as Zuhal began to tell about her work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, and the successes they've had in bringing youth of such varied background together for a common cause. Other student projects ranged from nuclear disarmament to helping inner-city children learn the power of meditation to help find stability in their lives.That afternoon, after wandering the United Nations and reading all the great quotes on the walls, we participated in a "world flag ceremony" run by the United Religions Initiative at the UN Chapel. Each member nation's flag was carried while the group came together to declare "May peace prevail in ____" - specifically supporting each country's right to peace and stability. The voices rose in chorus with special strength for Syria, Israel, Iraq -- but each nation was given the same attention, providing a wonderful sense of equality.Looking out over the roomful of students at the UN, Zuhal said she felt in her heart that, "there is good in the world". No better way to spend the International Day of Peace than to be reminded of that fact!And so we came south to Washington, DC.OFFERING A NEW PERSPECTIVEOur time in DC kicked off straight from the airport with a quick trip to the cheery and bright NPR studios, where Zuhal met and was interviewed by Ari Shapiro. His insightful questions and her thoughtful answers made for a wonderful conversation (I got to watch and listen from the "viewing booth") that will be aired early next week. Check our website and Facebook to find out when!That afternoon Zuhal and I had the privilege of meeting with some dedicated government officials in the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and well as the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs and the Middle East Policy Institute. They listened to Zuhal's story, and to the recent struggles the orchestra has faced, especially with ISIS in Iraq limiting opportunities to travel to the States. It was a honor to meet them, and to capture their attention for this vital project!Wednesday morning dawned bright and beautiful in DC (probably because the Pope's presence made the city show its best side!) and we headed to the National Defense University for a truly unforgettable day. Gracious hosting followed us each step of the way, and inquisitive students made an excellent audience for one of Zuhal's best presentations yet! She was presented with a beautiful book of women leaders, and had the opportunity to speak with many members of the audience following the talk, including the DC Chapter Co-Leader! It was inspiring to be at such a place of history, and to be among those who spend their time thinking deeply about strategy and how to best move toward stability all over the world. As Zuhal's message about the role of civil society in this work and the power of something as simple as music to bring people together sunk in, it was clear this is a whole new perspective to offer.Dr. Mike Bell closed the remarks by reminding the audience that clearly, Zuhal is an example of someone who "plays to her strengths" - using a tool (music) that she possesses, having the tenacity and the hope to push onward, she has accomplished and witnessed incredibly unity in a place better known for its impressive divisiveness.You can watch her talk on our YouTube channel, coming soon in three segments.We're just now landing in St. Louis, MO, getting ready for week two of this incredible journey. One of the things we love best about Zuhal and her work is that her story speaks to so many - to those who believe in the power of music, to those working on interfaith connections, to those who live in a space of policy and diplomacy, to those who believe that empowering youth is the smartest move as our world grows smaller and more connected every day. And there are some who believe in all these things!We can't wait to come to your city, or to have you tune in to the talk at NDU or at the UN. Follow us on Twitter or Instagram for tour updates.