By Kelly R. Young
Dr. Maya Soetoro and Thomas West are committed to building a generation of peacebuilding artists and storytellers who inspire people everywhere to roll up their sleeves and start pursuing a more just and loving world.
They do this through their work at The Peace Studio. Through their work—and thru special presentations like the one recently held by the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy—they are building a movement that leads to a more empathetic and less divided world.
Dr. Soetoro and West shared inspiring stories and their personal perspectives as they shifted the narrative in philanthropy to place social justice and peace at the center. Audience members joined from around the country and world to hear them reflect on the meaning, practice, and impact of philanthropy for social justice and peace.
It’s important to note their backgrounds and why they are true experts and thought leaders on this topic.
Dr. Maya Soetoro is the co-founder of The Peace Studio. She’s an award-winning peace, multicultural, and international studies educator who serves on the International Team Consultant, Obama Foundation, and Faculty Specialist, University of Hawaii. She’s a former campaigner for her brother, former President Barack Obama.
Thomas West is the first executive director of The Peace Studio. With several years of experience as both a justice-centered performing arts producer and professional opera singer, Thomas previously held positions as a special projects producer at The Juilliard School and as the founder and executive director of the New York-based Collaborative Arts Ensemble. In 2014, he was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts by President Obama.
Through The Peace Studio they are using the arts and media to promote hope and healing. Their presentation was energizing and inspiring. While you can watch the full video, I wanted to share some of the quotes and comments that captured my attention.
Dr. Soetoro spoke fondly of her multicultural upbringing, which influenced her commitment to peace and conflict resolution. She became aware at a young age that we contain “bothness”—the notion that people can be destructive, creative, selfish, and collective, yet build ourselves up with authenticity and choose our higher self.
She emphasized the value of serving others and using a strength-based approach to innovate and spark change. She talked in detail about how our world needs healing and that collectively we must focus on positive peace to build a more beloved future for our community.
Dr. Soetoro encouraged everyone to consider their peace building identity and to use your voice to bring light, uplift others, and champion innovation. “This is the time to wash our eyes, and reconsider who we are and our responsibilities,” she said.
According to Dr. Soetoro, we all play a role in healing the hurts of the past that will change our future. Each of us can be a part in building a more peaceful community and peaceful world.
West spoke with passion about the role that artists and storytellers play in inspiring action and helping people connect across differences. He believes that to successfully shift our country to move from a culture that’s rooted in fear and isolation into one that’s more hopeful, we need to create opportunities to engage in storytelling that’s focused on strengths instead of deficits.
“When you tell a story with more positive energy, the result will be more positive action,” he said.
He also praised the innovation from artists during this past year, while acknowledging their natural talent to innovate. Artists around the world created incredible content—content that West encouraged the audience to seek out and share.
“Artists and storytellers should always be at the table,” he said. “They’re critical to shaping our culture and future. We need artists more now than ever.”
After answering questions from the virtual audience, Dr. Soetoro and West closed their presentation with a strong call to action. Dr. Soetoro encouraged everyone to think of themselves as peace building leaders and to create new ideas that lift one another up with a sense of possibility and common purpose.
West invited everyone to reframe how they tell stories—to be confident in their story and stand up for what matters most. He also encouraged people to think about what they can do to contribute to a better world.
One simple thing we can all do right now is take The Peace Studio’s #PledgeForPeace and commit to making everyday choices that contribute to peace. As Dr. Soetoro said, “we can’t wait for solutions; it begins with us.”
Kelly Young, president of Baise Communications, is an award-winning public relations counselor with 25+ years of experience in working with nonprofit and small businesses. She has worked in nearly every capacity of public relations throughout her career and has a proven track record of success in media relations, social media, brand management, communications planning, and community relations. She has built a strong reputation within the community and is sought after for her industry expertise and thought leadership. Kelly is a natural storyteller and an enthusiastic advocate for causes.