On Nov. 4, Virginia Wesleyan University played host to the 12th annual One Love Festival. The day was a celebration of different cultures organized by Rick Mateo with the help of Dr. Craig Wansink and Kelly Jackson of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom at VWU.
The event featured five main segments: a talk by Matthew Freeman, titled “Overcoming Bias: Building Relationships across Differences” in the Monumental Chapel, followed by “Waging Peace: Beyond Extremism to Our Muslim, American Neighbors”, a town hall discussion in the Boyd Dining Hall. WHRO’s Barbara Hamm Lee, host of “Another View”, moderated the discussion. After the town hall, Arthur Lopez held the Largest Drum Circle in the World, and Silently Sitting for Peace occurred simultaneously in the Batten Center Dance Studio . To finish the event, a concert was held in the Grille: “A Tribute to Bob Young & Teens with a Purpose.”
The emphasis, at least as far as Mateo is concerned, was on communication and bringing people together.
“Watching everybody talk, it gives you hope,” said Mateo.
Matthew Freeman travels with his wife, Tiffany Jana, around the world with the aim of consulting and helping people overcome their differences. To give an idea of the extent of the couple’s reach, Kelly Jackson said: “They actually consulted with a group in Athens, Greece, when they were having a lot of issues there,” referring to the Greek financial crisis.
His talk focused on the aim of togetherness, and setting up dialogues between groups of people, bringing a similar message to that of his book, which has the same name.
“One person speaking to everybody is fine. But it’s not dialogue,” Mateo said.
This led smoothly into the next segment of the day: the town hall discussion. The panelists for this included Mr. Freeman himself, Hajirah Abdous-Salaam, Sahzer Mirza, and Joshua Salaam. The town hall discussion is part of a larger initiative, named “Race: Let’s Talk About It,” and is held by VWU in partnership with WHRO.
The talk’s main goal was centered around better understanding the Muslim community, and was run primarily by the audience. The discussion helped people share their perspectives or stories to achieve this goal.
“We started these town halls at a One Love Festival in the fall of 2015, so we’ve been having a series of town hall events every year since then, focused on different topics related to race,” Jackson commented.
Baltimore native Barbara Hamm Lee was a competent moderator, and kept the conversation civil. Honesty, for Ms. Jackson, is a very important part of proceedings.
“People have been very honest in sharing maybe not what would be considered the most politically correct comments, sometimes,” Jackson chuckled.
It was clear that Jackson found the honesty valuable, and a great way to increase the understanding of people of different viewpoints, even if it was often received as closed-mindedness.
“The discussion had a really good panel of people, they were very thoughtful and honest,” said Gretchen Nelson, attendee and member of Virginia Wesleyan College’s class of 1994.
“There’s a time where words stop working. And when words stop working, music opens hearts,” Mateo said.
The third installment of the festival marked the end of the speakers and conversations. It came in the form of the World’s Largest Drum Circle, organized by Arthur Lopez. Walking into the Batten Center, the unmistakable sound of bongos was loud.
There were around 40 people in the circle, ranging from toddlers to adults, to pensioners, playing simple yet powerful beats. After a short time, Lopez asked people to come into the middle of the circle to dance to the music.
“I organize drum circles in Richmond, Virginia Beach, and everywhere in between,” Lopez announced during a brief description of his business.
At the same time as the drum circle, people were invited into the dance studio to sit silently for as long as they wished. The activity aimed to promote unity and understanding.
The night was finished with a concert, emceed by Esmin Baptiste Mateo. The concert featured performances from Walidanes, a group that performs African drumming, Teens with a Purpose, a movement bringing poetry, Nathan Richardson, who embodied Frederick Douglas, and Rick Mateo Band & Linda Henderson.
The most important goal for Mateo was to plant seeds. He claimed that he wanted to make people think, and develop ideas through talking. Mateo wants his ideas to grow through others, starting small locally and snowballing.
“I can’t change the world, but I can change my community,” Mateo finished.