What inspired you to become a FOR member?
I would have to start with my grandmother, Pearl Kennedy, who was a personal friend of Dr. King’s. She used to cook for him when he would visit Chicago because he had a lot of stress and she was also from the South, like him. She’d cook gumbo for him. Also my mom, Valerie, who marched with Dr. King during the Democratic Convention when he was visiting Chicago in ’68, as well as my father, William Birdwing Kennedy, who also marched with Dr. King. And then I would add that Richard Deats, one of my mentors, was a big influence. Hildegard Goss-Mayr was as well, and then, of course, Professor Anthony Nicotera, who revealed the connections between Alfred Hassler, Dr. Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Sister Chan Khong.
What is your proudest FOR moment?
So I have to think in terms of number of moments because they’re all interconnected, and they culminated in The 5 Powers movie being produced and winning a film festival in New York. So, proudest moments. Yeah, so my interconnected four moments were: going to Austria and working with Hildegard Goss-Mayr, which led to me working with the two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, from Argentina, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, from Northern Ireland; Richard Deats, again, who was very central to my proudest moments, because he was my mentor over all the years; and then working for FOR in the Netherlands and meeting Laura Hassler, which led to working with Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastics and lay people that culminated into the making and completion and release of the movie. So, those are my proudest FOR moments, all interconnected, because I think they cannot be separated.
When did you find your peace witness most challenged and how did you respond?
The collision between Hispanic children in cages, the Muslim ban, and racism and police brutality in the [United] States. So, I would say the biggest challenge is dealing with all of the hatred and vitriol that has been coming out of the current administration. And the best way that I have learned how to deal with it is to discuss these things with people who are mindfulness practitioners, and also to take several walks a day, do some physical exercise, and eat a good diet in order to keep myself balanced.
What is the most critical issue we’re facing right now?
No question, I’d have to say, the COVID pandemic. Of course, there’s a lot of other things that are going on in the world and in our society that are extremely challenging and there needs to be a lot more attention paid to them. But the COVID pandemic in the [United] States, I would say, is the number one issue. It is also interconnected to your health care system, the economic system that’s really affecting what was the middle class. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to change for the better until the end of 2021.
What song, book, movie, etc. is inspiring you/ giving you hope in this moment?
So, this is an easy one, saving the best for last. I want to give two short answers to this question. Michael Franti’s song “I am on your side,” I guess, would be the song. And then of course, I’m gonna throw in a plug for The 5 Powers reboot. Those are the two things that are inspiring.