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Diversity Marked the 137th Birth Anniversary of the Mahatma

December 2006
Diversity Marked the 137th Birth Anniversary of the Mahatma

From a Bahai Invocation to a Jazz-Ballet Peace Dance, Diversity Marked the 137th Birth Anniversary of the Mahatma

Dr Bikramjit Garcha, Rajesh Jyotishi and Parthiv Parekh amongst the recipients of the Service Awards.

Keeping with tradition, the Gandhi Foundation USA (GFUSA) delivered another memorable program celebrating the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the beloved father of the Indian nation. This, the 137th birth anniversary celebration of the Mahatma, was packed with a diverse repertoire of Gandhi's favorite bhajans, songs, dance, an award ceremony and speeches from dignitaries ranging from the Honorable S. M. Gavai, Consul General of India to Charles Steele, President of SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and Mr. Greg Pridgeon, Chief of Staff to the Hon. Shirley Franklin, Mayor of Atlanta. Mr Pridgeon is also the Vice Chairman of GFUSA.

The distinction of the Gandhi Foundation USA is its ability to organize and gather a multicultural milieu of people and guests for its events. Building upon the common ground shared by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi in their respective national struggles, the founders Dr Giriraj Rao and Subash Razdan have cultivated a special relationship with the historic King Center in Atlanta.

Keeping with the mission of unity and equality of these two heroes, the GFUSA had gathered like-minded individuals who are passionate about the ideals of truth, non-violence and universal brotherhood. An invocation by Gerald Boyd of the Bahai faith, a peace address by Dr. Patricia Rife, an Einstein scholar, and a service address by the Rev. Maria Shamaya Clemente, a tireless Atlanta proponent of peace and non-violence, set the right mood and ambiance for the program. A jazz-ballet fusion dance by the young performers of the group Warriors of Peace Dancers, dressed in pure white further amplified the ambiance of brotherhood and spirit.

Emceed by Vinita Thapper, the Youth Director of GFUSA and Viren Mayani, a Board member at the Foundation, the event began with the traditional ceremonial lighting of the lamp and garlanding of the statue by Consul General Gavai and Charles Steele, Jr. Madhvi Dave, in her inimitable voice, led the singing of Raghupati Raghav, after which, the audience marched in concert, chanting "Peace Now, More than Ever" towards the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

After a welcome address by Giriraj Rao, Sudeya Muwakkil spoke on behalf of the National Parks Service, the site of the Gandhi statue. The Gandhi Anthem, Vaishnava Janato, was rendered by Madhvi Dave and echoed by all. Chief Guest Consul General Gavai spoke of his visit to this shrine and validated his impressions of the success of this organization, which he said was a role model that has inspired other such Gandhi statues throughout the country. Dr. Joy Berry, former executive director of the Human Rights Commission and a Director of GFUSA, declared the winners of the Youth Essay Competition: 1st place winner was 18yr old Alexandra Henke of the Northview High School who also recited her essay about the relationship between non-violence and social justice. The maturity in the comprehension was heart warming. The 2nd and 3rd place winners were Shreya Desai, age 16 of the Campbell High School and 17 year old Jennifer Gornall also of the Northview High School.

There was poetry reading by Raksha's Executive Director Aparna Bhattacharya, who eloquently read the works of her late father, a Gandhian and a great philanthropist. Dr. Shushil Mittal spoke of how and when he encountered Gandhiji and his work at the James Madison University. The Greater Atlanta Tamil Sangam performed a famous Gandhian song, "Shanti Nilava Vendum" presented by a group of young Bharatanatyam dancers. The next speaker was Dr. Rajen Anand, President of the National Federation of Indian Associations (NFIA)

Together, Anand, Greg Pridgeon, Rao, Razdan (Acting Chairman of GFUSA) and Anthony Thaliath (Deputy Executive Director) handed out the plaques to the winners of the Gandhi Foundation Service Awards. The recipients of the service awards were: Rev. Maria Celemente of the Doorway to the Infinite Ministries whose message emphasizes peace; Dr. Bikramjit Garcha, Professor of Decision Sciences at Georgia State University's College of Business and founding member of SEWA & SA4U (South Asians for Unity); Mr. Charles Johnson of the Sweet Auburn Festival; and Rajesh Jyotishi and Parthiv Parekh of Khabar Magazine for "carrying the torch of Gandhi's philosophies with courage, insight and vision."

The program ended with Subash Razdan giving a vote of thanks followed by Shivadas leading the choir of all attendees to the rendering of King's Anthem, "We shall overcome". Before the delicious lunch was served, Mr. Steele was requested to cut the ceremonial birthday cake.

~Viren Mayani

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