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Back to listOct 14, 2007

SGI-USA West Territory Youth Festival Celebrates Lives of "Unstoppable" Heroes

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On October 14, 2007, more than 500 youth participated in the SGI-USA West Territory Youth Culture Festival, "Unstoppable--A Life of Victory," at the Vic Lopez Theater in Whittier, California.

The festival--an original production presented twice before an audience of 4,000--celebrated the lives of five peace heroes whose efforts have illuminated the dignity and power of ordinary people: Nelson Mandela, Betty Williams, César Chávez, Wangari Maathai and Daisaku Ikeda.

The play began with an opening skit and drumline titled "Losing My Way," which underscored the hardships many youth face today--parental disappointment, school violence and friends on the verge of suicide. The five protagonists looked on as performers highlighted the futile pursuit of money, fame and drugs, first through a rock band performance of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," and then through a series of dance numbers.

071014x_la_youthfest3.jpg Shouting, "Si, se puede! (Yes, it can be done!)," dancers enact César Chávez's efforts to improve working conditions of America's farmworkers
071014x_la_youthfest4.jpg Youth rap about five heroes who each have made a lasting impact on society

The next act, called "Choose Hope--Choose Life," illustrated the fine line some youth straddle between despair and hope, first with a chorus singing stanzas from the theme song "Unstoppable" with melancholy overtones, representing the pain of the main characters, and next with rappers and spoken word artists compelling them to choose hope. "Shout it out," they said. "Be heard, and let your greatness emerge!"

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A dancer demonstrates Betty Williams' strong will for peace

The main characters then watched as the life of each peace hero was depicted, always ending with the refrain, "I will never be defeated!"

The chorus celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela through the Specials' song "Free Nelson Mandela," paired to African drumbeats. Mr. Mandela was elected president of South Africa in April 1994 after spending nearly 27 years in prison for spearheading the struggle against apartheid.

Next, dancers portrayed the life of Betty Williams, who was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize for organizing the first peace marches to bring Protestant and Catholic women together following centuries of religious and political conflict in Northern Ireland. The performers depicted the conflict through the street dance "krumping" and its resolution through a fluid contemporary dance.

A drumline then spurred on nonviolent protesters, who marched to the battle cry: "Si, se puede! (Yes, it can be done!)" They represented César Chávez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union and improved the working conditions of migrant farm laborers.

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Taiko drummers kick off the finale

A flag corps celebrated the work of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Maathai founded the grassroots Green Belt movement that has planted more than 30 million trees across Kenya. Each twirling flag, in its green hue, represented her environmental movement springing to life.

Lastly, a youth ensemble performed the score "Where the Sun Breaks through the Mist" to images of Mr. Ikeda and his mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda. Mr. Ikeda, as SGI president, has spearheaded the spread of Nichiren Buddhism to 190 countries and territories and has founded educational, cultural and research institutions throughout the world centered on Buddhist humanism. As the play's protagonists firmly declared that they, too, would never be defeated, all the performers came on stage to sing "Unstoppable," an original song written by Jennifer Paskow and Joanna Beacom, with the chorus:

I am here. Hear me now.
This is real. I'm unstoppable.
Nothing's gonna stand in my way.

[Adapted from an article in the October 26, 2007 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photos courtesy of Erik Fischer]