“Art is important. We tend to think it is a luxury, but it gives people deep pleasure because beauty is the personification of hope that something grander is at work.” - Gil Dellinger
Consider how ancient Greeks, as well as Persian philosophers would often begin their lectures with music and when they believed their audience had reached a certain level of receptivity, the conversation would begin.
The first black president was elected to the United States in 2008. Many predicted that his election heralded an end to racism in America, but racist cartoons, death threats and public comments about President Obama serve as examples that America is still grappling with this problem.
In a recent gathering at a local park, a boys were observed talking to each other. The Hispanic youth was routinely called “wetb**k” while the little black boy took being called “ni**er” in stride. Similar epithets were used for the Armenian and Syrian youths, suggesting that for some children labels such as these are both acceptable and the norm.
In a Los Angeles suburb there's an ongoing problem at an affluent high school over fights breaking out over ethnic lines…and it's not between black and white... it is between Latinos and Armenians.
On July 22, 2011 a tragic shooting and bombing took place in Norway killing over 93 people. The immediate reaction was that it was the work of Muslim extremists. The truth – it was carried out by a single man whose manifesto included rants against Muslims and calls for an end to multiculturalism. His writings liberally cite the work of American anti-Muslim extremists — zealots who usually boast of their influence but now, seek to deny it.
These incidents and more speak to ongoing challenges we face in promoting unity in our world today.
These represent just a few of the reasons that we launched Oneness.
Oneness works for racial unity through the arts. We launched in 2000 with a vision – that where laws and lectures ended, the arts could arise to inspire, educate and help unite. An example of our use of the arts to promote unity can be seen in the Oneness partnership with the LA County Human Relations Commission.
In 2009, Los Angeles County had seen a dramatic rise in incidents among teens based on racial intolerance, religious intolerance, homophobia, homelessness, and xenophobia. Of the 100's of proposals submitted to the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, they chose a model based on a Oneness program designed to bring diverse youth together to write music to address these issues in their voice. Their reasoning ; talking to youth in their own language stood a better chance of making an impact and getting through than the lectures and “Just Say No” programs of the past. The project included the creation of a band (called “The Bricks”), a diverse group of teens which continues to perform throughout Los Angeles County to this day, sharing their message of unity and social justice.
Other successful Oneness programs include:
Multicultural Training for teachers and students in Tianjin,China
Producing a multicultural concert/fundraiser at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch
Creating curriculum for the Oneness' Multicultural After School Program
Launching “The Oneness Multicultural Book Drive and Reading Program”
Producing the play “Celebrating the Life of Cesar Chavez” in partnership with UCLA, The Los Angeles Unified School District, and actor Ed Begley, Jr.
Currently, Oneness is in conversations with Grammy-award winning Neo-Soul singer India.Irie. In 2009, Arie had become disillusioned with the music industry, but during a visit to Tel Aviv she met Idan Raichel, a pianist/composer/bassist and singer. A musical partnership blossomed and their creative collaboration (Open Door) is drawing critical acclaim and tremendously diverse audiences. Oneness co-founder Dennis Stafford & Board member Tina Leisner-McDermott attended the “Open Door” concert in Santa Monica,CA. The mixed audience was spellbound. Tina commented; “ When I heard India and Idan singing together in Hebrew, it was a profound and soulful experience for me. I've always felt strongly that Jews and African-Americans have a deep historical and emotional connection. Hearing their two voices blend together not only confirmed my long held beliefs, but gave me an uplifting sense of the possibilities of healing racial and cultural conflict through music and art.”
India and Idan's collaboration serves as an example of the power of music and art to bring diverse people and cultures together.
- That a society which embraces our common humanity and appreciates diverse cultures is a better place for all. Oneness respects everyone's right to associate (or not) with whom they choose, but we also maintain that a bigger, societal problem exists. We would not appear to be alone in this, as a majority of Americans when polled agreed that race remains a divisive issue in this country and the world.
- That the arts are uniquely suited to bridge racial, cultural, and language barriers to help establish real connection and understanding among diverse people.
- Our mission "To bring diverse people together for community building programs which inspire racial and cultural harmony through the arts."
Our journey over the last 10 years has been filled with highs...and a few lows. Yet it's been the very challenges we've faced that have both steeled our resolve and helped teach us valuable lessons for the future. Real change happens at the grass roots level. Th e ideals Oneness embodies are bigger than any one person. It's not about how much money we raise…it's about how well we can locate and activate those people who believe in the cause of unity and see the value of the arts to make a difference. We also know that the cause of Oneness isn't for everybody . Going forth, Oneness will focus on attracting those people who “get it”; the ones who are passionate enough to promote, participate, share and yes, even challenge us.
To use the Internet and existing social networks to connect with supporters and create a community dialogue. This initiative will also be key in helping us build a network of artists who support our mission and allow us to reach critical masses of like minded people
Oneness will have a multi-lingual, multi-identity presence to help demonstrate our position that diverse cultures should be recognized and celebrated and provide a place where all feel welcome
We'll focus on programming that has been successful in the past and limiting the distribution of resources in areas less productive
Though important, raising money is not the point of this movement, though certainly it will require financial support. We will be transparent & ethical.
For some, there is no problem with race in America - and that's ok. We each must decide those causes we're most passionate about and issues of race are particularly subjective. As to Oneness, we need the question-askers, rabble rousers, and those willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. If this is you, then we urge you to get involved.
We'll be introducing programming and initiatives for artists and potential volunteers offering opportunities to donate as little as an hour or so of your time, but for now we'd simply ask that you visit (and “like”!) the Oneness.org Facebook. By joining the Oneness community on Facebook we'll begin pulling our “tribe” together and getting the conversation started. (By litterally getting people on the same page)
Consider this quote from the Persian nobleman Abdul Baha which was published in 1905, “In short: melodies, though they are material, are connected with the spiritual, therefore, they produce a great affect. A certain kind of melody makes the spirit happy, another kind makes it sad, and another excites it to action.” Be it historical times or the present day, music, movies, theatre, the visual arts and spoken word have served to inspire dialogue and action.
We're in the business of exciting hearts to action around the cause of racial unity. Please join us on our Oneness.org Facebook page to help get the conversation going...and share it with your friends. You can also contact Dennis Stafford at email@example.com or call (818)588-3599 .
Together, we CAN make a difference.