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Heroes of Humanity 2009: Celebrating Atlanta’s Heroes

The Art of Living Foundation, the International Association for Human Values and Atlanta Unity hosted Heroes of Humanity, an event to acknowledge and award two local heroes, who exemplify the spirit of service through their dedication to uplifting human values in the community, on November 8, 2009 at Atlanta Unity Church in Norcross. Attended by over 300 people from distinct backgrounds, cultures and faiths, the event was a celebration of the human spirit with wisdom, music and meditation. Heroes of Humanity highlighted the Art of Living Foundation’s initiative to create a “Violence Free, Stress Free America” through education and humanitarian service.

“Friendliness, compassion, love and caring – these human values are an integral part of every individual. The Art of Living Foundation is dedicated to work towards alleviating the effects of stress through simple and effective techniques that increase joy and enthusiasm in daily life,” said Mona Shah-Joshi, Director of the Art of Living Foundation in Atlanta. The non-denominational Art of Living Foundation is one of the world’s largest United Nations-accredited NGOs. It offers conflict resolution, trauma relief, breathing and meditation programs for individuals, communities, government, business, youth, prisons and other groups. Founded in 1982, the Art of Living Foundation has grown to become one of the world’s largest U.N. NGOs with centers in 140 countries. The foundation and its volunteers work tirelessly in some of the most difficult areas of the world, such as Iraq, Kashmir and Sri Lanka, to find workable, peaceful and sustainable solutions to the cycle of violence and conflict. Through its stress management, trauma relief and self-development programs, the foundation has had remarkable success in turning individuals away from violence and aggression. 

In the United States, Art of Living Foundation and its sister organization, the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) are actively involved in offering highly effective stress management programs for returning war vets with PTSD, schools and universities throughout the United States and corporations including NASA and the World Bank. In Atlanta, Art of Living courses are offered at the Art of Living Center in Sandy Springs. Student organized Yoga, Service and Empowerment (YES!+) courses are offered at Emory University and Georgia Tech. Volunteer teachers have been teaching free trauma relief programs for Bhutanese refugees via IAHV’s Refugee Self Empowerment and Integration Project. 

“Traditionally, history has honored as heroes those who have come back valiant from war. Today, we honor heroes who embody the spirit of selfless service,” said Ms. Joshi. The Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Human Values Award, named in honor of spiritual leader and humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was presented to Dr. Eddie Morris and Mr. Ralph Parker. 

Dr. Eddie Morris is the founder and president of Men of Destiny (MOD), a non-profit organization. MOD enhances the educational experiences of African-American children and currently has more than 435 members in four Georgia schools within two school systems. Dr. Morris also formed a Women of Destiny (WOD) at Bear Creek Middle School, where he currently serves as a social worker. Mr. Ralph Parker, has been working with refugees for over three decades. He started working with Russian refugees in the 80’s during the Bosnia crisis. Mr. Parker has received Community Service Recognition for assisting the Clarkston fire victims in 2002, and has served on the Georgia Advisory Council for Refugee Resettlement since the last four years. Mr. Parker has been instrumental in establishing Refugee Emergency Funds at World Relief and Jewish Family Services. Currently, he is working with the Bhutanese refugees in Atlanta and is actively helping in raising funds for them. 

Keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Lawrence Carter, first Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and professor at Morehouse University captivated the audience with inspirational stories about his heroes—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Daisaku Ikeda—underscoring that while each hero practiced a different religion, they were united by their shared spiritual and philosophical influences. Atlanta’s International Harmony Youth Choir, ages 6-18, sang songs of peace, love and harmony in various languages. Music Director, Joyce Ketchie Carr said, “Harmony embraces the belief that training culturally diverse children to perform together benefits the quality of life in our communities and in our world.” Atlanta Unity Choir and Musicians Guild had everyone dancing in the aisles with an eclectic mix of contemporary pop songs, traditional gospel and ancient Sanskrit chants. All musical performers received a standing ovation with a roaring applause. “The melodies were fantastic and so heart warming. I was moved by the songs and the synchronization that resonated in my heart long after the event was over,” exclaimed Dorota Niedzwiecki, an architect. 

In honor of the event, Dekalb County CEO Burrell Ellis proclaimed November 8, 2009 “Art of Living Foundation Day” and “Atlanta Unity Day.” District 2 Councilman Kwanzaa Hall proclaimed the day “Heroes of Humanity Day.” Atlanta Unity’s Sr. Minister Rev. John Strickland was elated with the honor and said that he was extremely proud to be a part of such an extraordinary event, and to have his congregation join with the Art of Living Foundation to present these awards for giving back to the society. “The level of love, dedication and service offered by the Art of Living volunteers is an example to my church. I am deeply thankful to them for bringing to us this beautiful gift of love and blessing all of us,” he summed up.  


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