The Gandhi Foundation of USA (GF-USA) observed momentous triple celebration of the 9th anniversary of the dedication of the historic Mahatma Gandhi Statue, the 58th Republic Day of India, and Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 78th Birth anniversary, at the M.L.K. National Historic Site, on Saturday, January 27.
The ties between the Gandhi Foundation, the King Center and the National Park Service have been exemplary and in unison to spread the message of peace and non-violence.
A few weeks earlier on the Birth Anniversary of M.L.K. Jr. on Jan 15, 2007, The Consul General of India, S.M. Gavai and Gandhi Foundation officers Subash Razdan and Giriraj Rao had participated at the Ecumenical Services at the Ebenezer Church and as Marshals at the King Parade. A year earlier, Gandhi Foundation had also participated at the funeral services for Mrs. Coretta Scott King attended by dignitaries across the globe.
Today, after GF-USA Chair, Subash Razdan welcomed all gathered in reverence for the Mahatma, Dr. Commander Selvam Siddhar and Siva Swamy of the Hindu Temple of Georgia garlanded the resplendent statue of the Mahatma. This year’s Gandhi Foundation Awardees and Honorees, Steve Klein of King Center, journalist Ravi Ponangi, and Mahadev Desai, a free-lance journalist and Gandhi Foundation Board Member, flanked by dignitaries and representatives of Atlanta’s main stream, Asian-American and African-American communities and media, graced the occasion by lighting the traditional lamp of reverence.
Razdan gave a brief background of the statue, a glowing and inspiring beacon to thousands of visitors to the M.L.K.National Historic site and also exhorted the audience to visit the GF-USA’s popular website www.gandhifoundationusa.com for more information about the Foundation and its activities.
The audience joined in with Atlanta’s well-known singer Krishna Kali Bakshi and her troupe into a soulful rendition of the bhajan song “Raghupati Raghava”.
This was followed by a symbolic march linking Gandhi and King, the Unity March from the Gandhi Statue to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would preach and launch the message of peace, non-violence and civil rights.
The celebrations inside the Ebenezer Church were impressively steered by Master of Ceremonies, Jacob Ampat, an Executive of Georgia Pacific.
Melissa Rias of the National Park Service (NPS) conveyed the greetings and good wishes to GF-USA on behalf of NPS Superintendent Judy Forte while lauding the bond and social service between the Gandhi Foundation, the National Park Service and the King Center. She added, “The Gandhi Statue is proving a big magnet as more than 700,000 visitors a year come to Atlanta to marvel and pay homage to the invaluable bond between Dr.King and the Mahatma”.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Shivadas, Director of Operations of GF-USA, explained the commitment of GF-USA for the annual triple celebrations in the month of January. During the invocation, the Church reverberated with the meaningful chants by Sri Sri Selvam Siddhar of the Hindu Temple and Community Center of Georgia.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s Chief of Staff, and a great friend of the Indian American community, Greg Pridgeon expressed his joy and pride in delivering the Mayor’s message in the hallowed Ebenezer Church. He remarked, “Ebenezer Church is a special place, for it is here that during the years 1960 to 1968, Atlanta’s favorite son, and Civil Rights icon, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., stood and preached the word of God, talked world peace, racial harmony, economic equality and changed the social fabric of Atlanta. His philosophy influenced by the great Mahatma, helped in closing the gap of hatred, brought different races together and immortalized him in the hearts of millions across the planet. He is revered today for his legacy, for his cause and for his convictions”.
In his emotional remarks, GF-USA Executive Director Giriraj Rao spoke about the dedication and commitment of all the GF-USA family in making the installation of the historic Statue a reality at the revered Historic site. He added, “The installation and dedication of the Gandhi Statue in the M.L.K.Jr.,National Historic Site is significant and important because it is the first time that the U S Department of the Interior, which administers the National Park Service and historic sites, has permitted such a memorial on Federal lands. The National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) - the largest grassroots national umbrella organization in the USA, with the support of the Embassy of India, the Government of India, the City of Atlanta, the State of Georgia, the King Center, and the Georgia Human Relations Commission, along with a number of Indian-American, Asian-American, African-American and other mainstream community organizations all came together in harmony for this to fructify. The project received was supported by commercial and private sponsors including the principal sponsor, The Coca-Cola Company”.
“Then National President of NFIA Subash Razdan, who spearheaded the project for over seven years with the help of the Gandhi Task Force, Superintendent of the National Park Service, Troy Lissimore, and Executive Director of the Georgia Human Relations Commission, Dr.Joy Berry, Hon. Greg Pridgeon, were the key players in making this dream a reality”, Giri emphasized. He further recognized GFUSA Board members for their steadfast support.
Giri described the various milestones attained by the Gandhi Foundation stating, “The Gandhi Statue and the quotes of Gandhi and Dr. King inspire all who visit the site. With more exposure, activities and media coverage of its activities, the Gandhi Foundation is honoring its commitment to enhance the awareness of Gandhi’s indirect influence on the Civil Rights Movement. The Gandhi Statue has added immensely to the international character of the Historic Site. It has attracted many Peace Groups. A delegation of Japanese visitors from Nagasaki and Hiroshima stood near the Gandhi Statue and voiced their anguish and concern about nuclear proliferation. Underprivileged children from Gujarat, India, who were spreading the message of Gandhi, sang songs of peace near the Statue. Peace Vigils have been held near the Statue to voice concerns about the hostilities between India and Pakistan or war in Iraq. Interfaith prayer meetings have been held and when India Government Ministers come to Atlanta, they make it a point to view the Statue and pay their homage to the Mahatma. In short, the Gandhi Statue offers a new perspective to the National Historic Site for understanding the merits of non-violence”.
The celebrations and entertainment. Dr. Shivadas sang the rousing peace song, “Let there be Peace on Earth. Krishna Kali and her troupe sang one of Gandhi’s favorite bhajans, “Vaishanava janato”. Atlanta’s well-known musician and accomplished violinist, Amitava Sen, his wife Suzanne Sen, Riyadh Ahmed, Naseer Ahmed, Rinta Ahmed and Rakhi Banerjee, regaled the audience with songs on liberation and celebration of the joy of loving ones fellow man, written by poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Nishi Shah and Nirvi Shah, who have been trained by Vibha Desai and Usha Kadaba’s Academy of Indian Dance and Music, performed a scintillating dance to the patriotic song, “Vande Mataram”. Many eyes in the audience were teary when Krishna Kali and her troupe sang Lata Mangeshkar’s perhaps most famous heart- tugging patriotic song, “ae mere watan ke logon”
The Guest Speaker, current President of India American Cultural Association (IACA), Gauranga Banik, spoke about India’s Republic Day celebrations and about some of many freedom fighters and selfless patriots who gave their lives for the cause of India’s Freedom - Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhash Chandra Bose and Sarojini Naidu.
Dr. Sunita Dodani, a Cardiologist from Augusta, Ga., spoke about her planned research project on ‘Heart Study for South Asians’ at the Medical College of Georgia, to establish causative factors for a disproportionate incidence of cardiac and vascular related diseases in South Asian community. She thanked Gandhi Foundation for the support and cooperation for her forthcoming research project which will include free blood tests and ultrasound procedures.
One of the very distinguished guests, His Excellency Moses Mukami, Founding Chairperson of the MLK Jr. Africa Foundation in Kenya, could not make it on time for the awards presentation due to delay in his flight from Nairobi. Instead, the Gandhi Foundation Chair and a well-known national leader, Subash Razdan was invited to conduct the proceedings for the prestigious Gandhi Awards presentations. Razdan recognized H.E.Mwangi Mukami in absentia. H.E. Mukami, however, paid his homage to the Gandhi Statue the following day.
Razdan reiterated the significance and importance of Gandhi Awards and emphasized, the awards have a lot more meaning when presented jointly by all the selfless community leaders in Georgia. Befittingly, he invited Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America’s Sneha Mehta; NFIA Regional Vice President, Dhirubhai Shah; President, IACA Gaurang Banik; President, Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta Vinodbhai Patel; Ekal Vidyalaya, S.E.Region leader, Chander Agarwal; Hindu Temple of Atlanta’s Dr. Sujatha Reddy; Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce’s Dr. Ash Thakker; and Gandhi Foundation, USA’s Executive Director Giriraj Rao on the dais for the awards presentation..
The recipients for the 2007 Gandhi Foundation Recognition awards are Steve Klein of King Center, who has been a great friend of Indian-American community and who has worked on various joint projects between the Gandhi Foundation and King Center, upholding the principles of non-violence and peace; Ravi Ponangi of India Tribune and Mahadev Desai of Gandhi Foundation, a free-lance journalist of long standing in Atlanta. All three Awardees were lauded by Subash Razdan for their outstanding community service, dedication and commitment in spreading the message and awareness of Dr.King and Mahatma Gandhi.
In the spirit of Gandhi Foundation goals and objectives, Ms. Sylvia Campbell, a Volunteer with Crossroads Community Ministries (CCM) briefly described the important role of her Ministry in helping the homeless and disenfranchised people in Atlanta, with free meals, housing, jobs, transport, addiction treatment, counseling, life skills coaching, case management and in obtaining State I/Ds.
John Naugle, a peace activist and a Co-Founder of Atlanta: City of Peace Initiative-a non-profit organization whose goal is to help Atlanta discover more purpose through developing as an international peace capital, spoke about how Atlanta can be the world’s biggest Global Peace Garden with the triangle formed by the Carter Center, King Center and the Gandhi Center in the larger Historic District.
After thanking all the volunteers, sponsors, performers, Dr. Shivadas adjourned the assembly with the traditional Civil Rights Anthem, “We shall overcome”. The joyous celebrations concluded with relishing delectable refreshments co-sponsored by Bhojanic Restaurant.