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September 29, 2007

Boston Research Center for the 21st Century Hosts Ikeda Forum on "Women and the Power of Friendship"

The Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (BRC)* in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, was filled to capacity on September 29, 2007 as peace activists, scholars, and poets, gathered to engage in the "Fourth Annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue: Women and the Power of Friendship." This year's forum explored the dynamics of friendship and social change as experienced by women, past and present.

The forum began with a reading from BRC founder Daisaku Ikeda's poems pertinent to the forum. Sarah Wider, professor of English and women's studies, Colgate University, in responding to these poems said she was particularly struck by a poem written to the women of Soka Gakkai entitled "The Twenty-first Century is the Century of Women." Professor Wider remarked that Mr. Ikeda celebrates the ordinary wife, woman, mother whose strength and wisdom surpasses that of her husband and children because it derives from her own experience and struggle.

The morning session examined the nineteenth century when women's participation in social reform movements flourished in the United States. Anita Patterson, associate professor of English at Boston University, set the stage for the speakers to follow by quoting from Henry David Thoreau: "Friends cherish each other's hopes. They are kind to each other's dreams." Next, she posed the two key questions of this year's Ikeda Forum: How has friendship, especially among women, contributed to the work of reform? And to what extent has friendship helped foster emerging coalitions among women activists and reformers to break through boundaries of race, class and culture?

Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Joycelyn Moody and Anita Patterson

Betty Burkes (left) and Jan Surrey

The second speaker Joycelyn Moody, professor of American literature at the University of Texas, San Antonio, discussed the nature of interracial female friendship in nineteenth century America. The morning's third presenter, Charlene Haddock Seigfried, professor of philosophy and American studies at Purdue University, Indiana, cited the life of Jane Addams (1860-1935) as a model for creating social and community reform. These presentations about women in the anti-slavery movement and involved in inner city social work addressed the questions posed with an eye to learning from the past.

The afternoon session featured four activists. Betty Burkes and Jan Surrey introduced the concept of relational activism, which they described as a dynamic creative process of mutuality, inclusion, observation, and deep listening. The women also shared their view that non-relational models of activism are outmoded. Next, Scherazade King, founder of Project Think Different a nonprofit media and arts organization, spoke about her belief that music, film, and video are dynamic means that give voice to the disempowered and enable more people to be agents of positive social change.

Susan Retik shares her story

Susan Retik, the afternoon's final speaker, told the tragic but hopeful story of how she founded an international nonprofit organization following the death of her husband on September 11, 2001--he had been a passenger on one of the hijacked planes flown into the World Trade Center. In grappling with her own grief and learning about the lives of women in Afghanistan, and in particular widows, in 2003 she formed the organization Beyond the 11th with the mission to help widows affected by war and terrorism in Afghanistan. Ms. Retik shared, "Prior to 9/11, I couldn't have told you where Afghanistan is. As Americans, we have the luxury to walk around with blinders on. I was able to do that until 9/11 forced me to realize that we are all connected. It is so easy to forget about the problems of the rest of the world--that is, until we realize that their problems are our problems." Following her remarks, many in the audience were moved to tears hearing of her extraordinary efforts to join together with and support widows in Afghanistan.

The annual forum honors the many dialogues for peace undertaken by Buddhist teacher, poet, and BRC founder, Daisaku Ikeda.

*Note: The center changed its name to Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in April 2009.

[ Adapted from an article in the October 14, 2007, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan, and a BRC report: http://ikedacenter.org/thinkers-themes/themes/women-leadership/women-2007-ikeda-forum]