What is peace? Is it merely an absence of war and conflict? How do we create and bring peace into our daily lives and then into our community? How do we instill and perpetuate a culture of peace and what does this entail? In today’s interview I speak with local activists, artists, and global citizens David Wick and Irene Kai about their work of promoting peace in Ashland. Together they have worked tirelessly to bring the World Peace Flame to Ashland. They are the founders of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission. They are actively engaged in the conversation of how to enhance Ashland as a City of Peace. This work has taken them to speak at the United Nations and beyond. Today we will go into depth and explore the following questions. We will also look forward into the future for how we continue to foster peace in our community and beyond.

Hi Irene and David, Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today and welcome!

We are delighted to join you and the many people you touch with LocalsGuide. We really appreciate your thoughtful community service.

To begin with, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for all you have done to support and facilitate a culture of peace here in Ashland.

Thank you, Shields. Ashland is one of the cities where the Culture of Peace can take root in this way. Certainly, we bring our passion, skills, and determination to manifest this vision, and Ashland is the right place, and this is the right time for it to blossom.

Can you each tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and then tell us about the inspiration to your work here in Ashland?

Irene: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, came to New York City Chinatown when I was fifteen. I didn’t speak English and with limited language skill, it was natural for me to pursue the universal language of art. I earned my BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and MFA from the Royal College of Art in London. I taught art at Penn State University and traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia while I was in the African Art importing business with my former partner. I am still teaching art at the Rogue Community College today.

Twenty years ago, when my daughter went to Reed College in Portland, I was still living in Los Angeles. She recommended me to move to Ashland because I would be a little bit closer to Portland and there are still hippies and a Co-op in Ashland. I met David in 1999 on AOL personal, at the time, he lived in the Bay Area and after a couple of years of commute, he joined me in Ashland. He has been in the peacebuilding world for over four decades. I found that the principle is close to my heart and was intrigued by how we could put the principle into practice. We co-founded the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission on the 2015 International Day of Peace.

David: I came to Ashland for love, to join Irene in Ashland. She was an alive, vibrant artist of life and my life changed forever. Between us we bring together a wide spectrum of visions, skills, abilities and relationships.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where my 25-year professional career was training managers and executives and conducting organization development projects in organizations such as Levi Strauss, Stanford University and Sun Microsystems. In parallel I worked closely with the United Nations NGO Pathways To Peace through which I gained a great deal of experience in concepts such as Peacebuilding, Culture of Peace, and working with people internationally. This organization helped establish the UN’s International Day of Peace in 1981.

Please tell us about the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission. What is it and what does it do?

Mission statement: The Ashland Culture Of Peace is a community-wide movement dedicated to transforming our attitudes, behaviors, and institutions into ones that foster harmonious relationships with each other and the natural world

Our Mission is to challenge and shift our individual and community attitudes and beliefs from a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace. We believe this will lead to a shift in mindset and behaviors which will lead to systemic change.

Fundamentally ACPC is about community education and co-creating the Culture of Peace.

What is peace and how is it woven into the fabric of our society …or not?

I believe peace is an innate state of being, an innate sense of oneness and unity that we all have, and it takes practices to experience and keep in our daily lives. Peace is also a dynamic and evolutionary process.

Peace begins within each person and is experienced in the choices we make daily. As inner peace is developed, we will radiate peace to others and engage in a peaceful way of life. It takes practice and is something that is learned and based on our higher values of care for ourselves and others.

Societal peace is challenging, and humans have struggled with this for a very long time because we live in a physical world of dichotomies and differences which does not emphasize unity. And, this continues to be about choices, and we can make different choices as a community, as a society. This is the basis of focusing on a Culture of Peace. All people and all sectors have a part to play and contribute.

Irene, creating a culture of peace is a very intentional act. Please talk about the significance of intentionality and proclaiming peace as a cultural and societal value.

Intentions are the seeds which are selected and sown to cultivate a magnificent garden, when the garden matures and in full bloom, it attracts and invites all creatures to come to enjoy the richness of the environment and each other in harmony. Forming the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission is like cultivating a beautiful garden, each program we create is like adding a beautiful variety of flower to enhance the garden. Just for a few examples, we provide training on compassionate listening, implicit bias and run a weekly talking circle to enhance inclusivity in our community. We are also one of the partners to train and recruit volunteers for the Winter Shelter. We work closely with the Police Department to implement the Peace Officer program. To improve and mend the fabric of society is important, but to inspire and uplift each other and the community is just as important. We brought the World Peace Flame to Ashland to inspire the community to stand for who we are, then daily, we must act from that intention to treat each other with compassion, equity, justice and respect.

David, you have spent much of your career working with individuals and corporations around the world in facilitating and creating cultures of peace. How have you witnessed change and progress?

 First, I will share with you the development of my lens through which I see the world. Being born in 1946 my early childhood and family was impacted by WWII. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area I experienced the 1967 Summer of Love and anti-Vietnam War action. In 1968 I needed to serve in the US Navy and was nearly killed when the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise blew up on January 14, 1969 as we prepared to sail to Vietnam.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s many of us saw that the US and others were on an unsustainable trajectory and that we would all be facing major issues and crisis in the future. We are there now!

Concerned about how to proceed with my life, I choose a path of service and living what I was discovering are my higher values and seeing what I can do to create greater awareness and well-being as our lives and societies evolve. I believe we live in the hard-knocks schoolhouse physical world where we learn tough lessons. And we can discover and reveal what is at every one’s core, our divine selves. I believe we are all from the same source, and all are to be valued, and people are in different places of development on this pathway of life.

After spending most of the ‘70s in Santa Cruz creating an innovative youth program to provide an alternative to juvenile hall and then the death of my daughter at 2 ½ years old, I moved to San Francisco to seek my fortunes. Several examples of putting my values at the forefront are: at Levi Strauss & Co. I developed the Organization and Societal Transformation Special Interest Group, while a Stanford University it was a symposium creating a ten-year run of Peace Within Organizations, and at Sun Microsystems it was creating Peacebuilding Through Business. Each was guided by the relationship and experience I developed from 1980 and beyond with the United Nations NGO Pathways To Peace. I also conducted programs in Spain, France, Hong Kong, Canada, and India. 

I find change has accelerated, there is more of a generalized anxiety, and the extreme views and actions are more extreme now. There are wonderful, smart and caring people in every company and organization; our financial systems based on making your quarterly numbers often drive poor decisions and lack of care; there are companies embracing the triple bottom line; real change begins with us as individuals, our intentions, determination and choices. It is an ongoing learning process and not always comfortable or easy. One-day events can be nice and come and go, sometimes very impactful like the World Peace Flame lighting ceremony. The ongoing sustained presence and movement like ACPC can develop systemic change.

A very significant proclamation of peace here in Ashland has been the placement of the World Peace Flame.

The World Peace Flame in Ashland is very special, it is perpetual, and it is the second one in the United States. The first one is in the Civil Rights Museum, Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. We are so fortunate that the World Peace Flame and the Thalden Pavilion project came together creating the home of the World Peace Flame Monument on the SOU Sustainability Center at 155 Walker Street, directly across from the Ashland Middle School. Middle school students are the Flame Keepers who weekly refuel and care for the World Peace Flame. The September 21, 2018 lighting ceremony was attended by hundreds of local citizens as well as dignitaries from the World Peace Flame Foundation coming from the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Australia. The World Peace Flame illuminates as a symbol of peace, unity, freedom and is celebrated to inspire people everywhere that the individual plays a crucial role in creating peace at every level. The World Peace Flame has inspired invitations for ACPC to the United Nations, the Oregon State Senate and the city of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Irene, will you please talk more about the journey that you undertook to bring the Peace Flame to Ashland?

In September 2015, my daughter and I visited Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’ at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England. Since we had a car, we decided to visit Wales. One evening, we were deep in the Snowdonia Mountains, as dusk fell, I had to turn the car around to head back to town. As I turned into an outlet behind the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, a two-story high glass monument with a flame near the top was smack in front of my car. The words ‘World Peace Flame’ was etched into the glass. I was awestruck as I got out of the car and walked up to the monument. As I gazed into the flame, a stillness came over me and touched my heart. Peace starts with me. Seven sacred flames from five continents were flown live to Wales. United, it became the World Peace Flame. The Asian flame was from the eternal flame at Gandhi’s memorial. I was offered a candle to light from the flame and was told to bring the candle back to Ashland. The following week, David and I lit the candle from Wales and launched the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission. When I lit the candle at the launch, I was determined to bring the World Peace Flame to Ashland and create a World Peace Flame monument to honor and heal all the ancestors through the bloody history on this land.

When I came to Ashland twenty years ago, I began to learn the history of the Native American and was very active in the local Red Earth Descendent organization. I also learned the history of the Chinese in Jacksonville during the 1800s. They were laborers for the gold miners and were chased out when the gold dried up and vanished without a trace. They came from my ancestral village in southern China.

When we honor our ancestors with an eternal flame of peace, they may rest in peace and we, the descendent may live in peace. Peace and healing transcend time and space.

For three years, I worked diligently to get the Peace Flame installed. Amid this journey, by serendipity, the Ashland philanthropists Barry and Kathryn Thalden invited us to install the flame at the base of the obelisk in the Thalden Pavilion on the Southern Oregon University campus. The World Peace Flame in Ashland was lit on the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2018.

Let’s dive more into creating a culture of peace. What does this truly entail and how do we, as individuals, implement this daily into our lives?

This goes back to intentions. Our attitude dictates our actions. We create the world we want to live in, when we live our lives in default and allow outside influences dictate our lives, we live in chaos. When we change, everything changes around us. If one decides to be kind, every action this person takes will come from that intention, everyone who encounters this person will be touched by his or her kindness. I once taught my children when they were young, to see humanity as a body, every person is a cell, they must decide if they want to be a good cell or a bad cell. A good cell heals all cells surround it, a bad cell contaminates all cells surround it and become cancerous, eventually, enough bad cells will kill the body. Let our moral be our guide and be aware of our actions. With each action we take, are we uplifting others? Or are we degrading them? It is our choice.

How do we then take this to community levels of actualizing peace?

I’ve lived in Ashland for twenty years. I have built trusted relationships with many individuals in different capacities and different levels of social, economic standing. I have not been very vocal nor active in making a major push on any movement in the past. Since my encounter with the World Peace Flame and was deeply inspired, my heart is on fire. I become the flame. Most people are good people in Ashland, when I put myself on a megaphone to vocalize and encourage people to stand for who we are, I ignite the sacred flame in their hearts. They too speak from their hearts and start to create a world they want to live in. When individuals who are leaders in our community, like the Chief of Police, the City councilors, the Senators, State Representatives and the Chamber of Commerce make decisions daily that affects the community greatly from the lens of inclusivity, compassion, kindness and cooperation, we transform our community. When each inspired person acts on uplifting each other, we transform the world.

David, how do we behave or respond when overarching governmental bodies intentionally oppose and block pathways to peace?

We have certainly seen a lot of this in our lifetimes. Everyone has a worldview and values that we live by. This drives the choices we make and the actions we take. If we see wrongs being done, we can take actions to rectify the situation at whatever level of influence we have or strive for. Our ACPC position is to take actions by way of non-violent means. This is a position of strength which has been shown time and again.

At ACPC we appreciate what Buckminster Fuller said: “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

ACPC is a local-global initiative with a solid community base, a city focus because that is where we can have the greatest impact and collective influence. Cities are the real societal structural level where the Culture of Peace has direct impact. The individual person is always the bottom line in peace and peacebuilding daily choices, but it is the city that has the reach, authority, responsibility and influence to set the positive tone and direction for so many people. This can be done by beginning to use the Culture of Peace as a compass for guidance and a lens to see and understand differently. People in other cities and at the UN are seeing that Ashland is becoming a model which others are learning from. This local strength helps develop global strength in others.

Irene, please talk more about re-writing cultural identities and pathways to peace.

First, it takes self-awareness and curiosity to see ourselves in the context of how we fit into the immediate surroundings and the big picture, especially for people who have never lived or traveled outside of the country where they were born. When I was thrust into New York City at age 15 from Hong Kong, it was an equivalent of landing on Mars. I didn’t speak the language, American social norm was so foreign, all I could do was to observe, learn and fit in. It took over a decade before I thought I was good enough to just relax a little. I wrote a book in English about the journey of four generations of women in my family, how we navigate the cultures of two countries in different continents. After decades of observance and adjustments of my own behavior, I have a good understanding that we, as people, are of one species and must coexist with all living creatures in harmony on this planet to survive, then thrive.

Living in America as a non-Caucasian is a huge challenge, even in Ashland. I am a daughter, sister, mother and grandmother like all women in the world, I am a human being, same species as all human on this planet. I am a friend, an Ashlander, an Oregonian, an Asian American, an American, a global citizen and I am just like you.

When we connect on a human to human level, peace is possible. I am experiencing more and more of this connection with people. It is encouraging.

Irene, will you please talk about the significance of language and story and its relationship to peace?

Taking personal responsibility of our intention, speech and action is the foundation of practicing peace. For example: when someone describes an action of refusing service to some individuals, it was often told with a broad stroke: we don’t like them, we keep them out. This person is hiding behind the perceived acceptable cultural behavior. If this person had to say, I don’t like them (and describe who ‘them’ are), I want to keep them out. Then this person must be aware of his/her personal bias and take responsibility for the action.

Taking personal responsibility for our action requires self-awareness and it is work. Being vigilant at evaluating every situation before we act is not automatic, it is a deliberate learned process. It is easy to say the words: I will align my action to my intention. I tried this one and took me well over three solid years to monitor, examine and correct every action I took to have the alignment become natural. I realized how we were trained at our young age by the habits and thought process of our families. To unlearn a life-long habit, then learn and practice a new way of being takes commitment, tenacity and devotion. When we go on automatic pilot and hide behind the cultural norm, we perpetuate old habits, and nothing changes. Building relationships by taking personal responsibility to tell the story, we are connecting to each person on the human level. Peace is possible.

David, right now you are both actively working together with the city of Ashland to proclaim itself as a city of peace and join up with other international cities of peace. 

The terms City of Peace and International Cities of Peace provide an identity, branding, a direction, intention, a network, a common goal, and a point of inspiration. With the guidance of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, on May 16, 2017 the Ashland City Council joined the International Cities of Peace and proclaimed itself a City of Peace “…in perpetuity and encourage city and community leaders to work with concerned citizens to develop policies and procedures that promote a culture of peace in our region” signed by John Stromberg, Mayor.

No city is 100% a city of peace, rather all are on the path to “becoming” a more peaceful city. Establishing a community as a peace city recognizes past achievements, encourages current initiatives, and inspires future generations for practical peace building. However, being a proclaimed city of peace provides an umbrella and support under which a broad spectrum of initiatives and actions can be taken.

Please tell us about your work with the winter shelter.

One of the initial calls to action when ACPC was first being established in early 2016 was to go into the Ashland streets to be a positive influence for residents, business owners and people who were homeless or “travelers.” This action was encouraged by Pam Marsh, our then City Council liaison.

ACPC Peace Ambassadors were created for this purpose and we were to expand the collective understanding of a culture of peace and listened to empower each person’s voice, so that all community members can be heard. This gave those who are homeless and young and old people a chance to be listened to and be acknowledged as they are often not even looked at. Seven months later people in the “street family” and Chief of Police, Tighe O’Meara felt we contributed to a positive change in the mood and behavior for all.

When the cold weather is upon us the Ashland winter shelters open for those without homes. But, they can only open with enough volunteers to provide the necessary assistance to keep the shelters open. ACPC was awarded grants from the Carpenter Foundation for the November 2017 – April 2018 and 2018 – 2019 Winter Shelter seasons. This provided funds for helping to find new volunteers and create volunteers.

We plan on developing this program further for the 2019 – 2020 winter season. Please let me know if you are interested in volunteering. Thank you.

The Ashland Culture of Peace Commission is one of 12 community partners in co-creating the Ashland Winter Shelter program. This includes:

  • Seven (7) Faith-based Institutions – First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church of Ashland, South Mountain Friends Meeting (Quakers), Temple Emek Shalom, Trinity Episcopal, Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalists Fellowship (UU), United Congregational Church of Christ (UCC)

  • Four (4) Nonprofit Organizations – Options for Helping Residents of Ashland (OHRA), Ashland Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC), Southern Oregon Jobs With Justice (SOJWJ), ACCESS

  • One (1) Governmental Agency – City of Ashland

David and Irene, you have also both been working with the police department to facilitate a culture of peace. Please tell us more about this.

When I learned about the Police2Peace program from founder Lisa Broderick and then talked with Chief Tighe O’Meara about it, I could see how embracing the Peace Officer designation can enhance Ashland’s intention of more fully becoming a City of Peace and manifesting a Culture of Peace. This is simple, practical, and research based. To me, this also carries the power of the expression, “As you think, so you become”. Co-creating a Culture of Peace is about mindset and behavior. It is a choice.

ACPC and APD are working together to enhance police and community. This is an important arena of a Culture of Peace.

This began on April 9th, 2019 with a community survey. Said Chief Tighe O’Meara, “The APD has long recognized that public safety is enhanced through strengthening relationships and engaging all members of the community. By issuing this survey and collecting the feedback, we can work even more closely with the community to ensure that our community is safe.”

The completion of the community survey led to the May 8, 2019 unveiling of the “Peace Officer” initiative. The Ashland Police Department (APD) and Ashland Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC) developed this initiative with the inspiration and guidance of Police2Peace. This is not just a cute, interesting, or “rad” thing to do, it has a real impact.

You have also been very involved in community peace education.

Yes, community peace education is a primary goal of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission and the most important communication vehicle is the bimonthly ACPC column published on Mondays in the Ashland Tidings. Every two weeks, we have outstanding people telling us about their questions, experiences, challenges, insights, and inspirations. We do so to provide a broad spectrum of voices, from our local youth, police, artists, and street people to international organizers, State Legislators, media professionals, and a UN Ambassador. The Culture of Peace is a learning journey and we learn from each other. The entire volume of the articles are archived in our website https://www.ashlandcpc.org/ashland-daily-tiding-articles.

Irene, how do we begin to have young people participate more, and not lose hope in peace as a path to gaining what they want in life right now?

The World Peace Flame was installed in the Thalden Pavilion across the street from the Ashland Middle School. During the lighting ceremony, the torch was held first by Grandma Aggie, the oldest living tribal elder in southern Oregon, then to the dignitaries, the last to hold the flame was a middle school student, a ‘Flame Keeper’. It is so symbolic to have the tribal elder passed the flame through the city and state officials then to an eighth grader, the representative of our future. Students from Ms. K Healy’s class volunteered to be the Flame Keepers to refill the oil lamp every Friday with recycled biomass oil and dust the lamp and the chamber with care. They take this very seriously and expressed the responsibility to hold peace daily is BIG. One of the students created a hashtag, #peace24/7. He said practicing peace is not a one-day thing or when you just think about it occasionally. It is 24/7, peace is not just an idea, it is what guides him in his daily life.

The World Peace Flame has a profound influence on young people. They get it and want it. My heart bursts with wonderment when I see and hear the youngsters being so proud to be the flame keepers and take their job so seriously. When they move on to high school, they will bring their peace into action with them and the next class will take their place. The World Peace Flame is eternal, and the Flame Keepers are perpetual. I have great hope.

David, you have had the opportunity to speak at the United Nations about peace. Please talk to us about this work and your experiences.

On March 11, 2019 we presented Ashland as a leading and innovative International City of Peace at the United Nations highlighting the iconic symbol of peace – the World Peace Flame Monument. ACPC made a public presentation to a standing room only audience, and a private meeting was held with Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace (GMCoP).

Inspired by our work in Ashland, Ambassador Chowdhury wrote an important newspaper article titled “ACPC Profiles Ashland at the UN… and Looks Ahead” which was published on March 25, 2019 in the Ashland Tidings.

In part he wrote, “I was impressed by their work in developing Ashland as a City of Peace, thereby evolving and inspiring at the same time a practical and workable model that other cities and civil society entities can learn from. I, along with GMCoP, encourage and support this brilliant endeavor by ACPC. My co-activists at the United Nations who interacted with ACPC leaders have particularly welcomed it.”

On September 21st you will be holding the Ashland Global Peace Conference.

We gave a presentation of our work in Ashland at the United Nations in March this year that resulted in a private meeting with the UN Ambassador. He is also the founder of the Global Movement of the Culture of Peace. Ambassador Chowdhury was impressed by what we have done in Ashland, especially the installation of the World Peace Flame. He said that all non-profit organizations do a very good job on fixing problems in communities, the Ashland Culture of Peace does that well plus we inspire the community to do better. By engaging the middle school children to be aware of their attitude and action, leading them towards peace is groundbreaking. Ambassador Chowdhury asked to be invited to Ashland to see our programs for himself.

On September 20th, 2019, Ambassador Chowdhury is going to honor the Ashland Middle School Flame Keepers in the Thalden Pavilion. The next day, Ambassador Chowdhury will be the keynote speaker for our Ashland Global Conference. This conference shows the global community what we are doing in Ashland to advance the Culture of Peace and at the same time, we also show our community in Southern Oregon what we are doing is getting the attention of the global community. We highlight the leaders of our state, city and local community to inform us of their leadership through the lens of creating a Culture of Peace.

The theme of our conference is “You Are the Flame.” The Ashland Culture of Peace Commission has established practical applications of the Culture of Peace in the City of Ashland to intentionally guide and transform the city to a more harmonious culture. From the personal, interpersonal, community, city, state, national and global levels, we are integrally linked. When we personally practice peace, we transform the world.

Another international speaker is Kia Scherr, her husband and eight-year-old daughter were killed in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. She co-founded One Life Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating peace education programs for schools, business and government. Her theme at the conference will focus on forgiveness. 

Tell us about the panels that will be held at the conference.

Feeding the Flame – Local City panel – Dennis Slattery – City Councilor, Tighe O’Meara – Chief of Police, Sandra Slattery – Chamber of Commerce, Kelly Raymond – School District Superintendent, Rabbi David Zaslow – Faith Community

Taking the Flame Beyond Ashland panel – Senator Jeff Golden, Rep Pam Marsh and Executive Director of United Way, Jackson County, Dee Anne Everson

Be the Flame – Thriving Leadership Academy: summarize what has transpired, highlight key points, weave things together, invite participants to apply what they’ve heard / learned, and take away specific action steps to integrate it all.

What can we as a community do to take things to the next level?

Keep in mind the Ashland Culture of Peace:

  • Come learn about your city, come to the conference

  • Brings heart and compassion to conversations, decision-making, and systems

  • Recognizes the inherent value of each person, the diversity within community

  • Invites everyone’s participation, relying on the natural gifts of each community member

  • Encourages mutual respect so that all residents and visitors feel safe, heard, and empowered

  • Establishes trust through holding all persons responsible for their actions

  • Employs compassionate listening to air feelings, viewpoints, and concerns

  • Discovers solutions through collaborative exploration

  • Emphasizes the universal values of kindness and generosity, love and beauty, caring and curiosity

  • Seeks larger truths and broader perspectives to better comprehend local and world affairs

  • Values and nurtures all of life, honoring the environment and promoting humanity’s balanced place in the web of existence

  • Builds upon the foundation of existing groups contributing to the wellness of the world

  • Creates an emerging, evolving, living model for thriving together as fellow humans

  • Smile at the next five people you see on the streets in town.

  • Support our work and donate: https://www.ashlandcpc.org/donations

Are there any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers today?

Peace in action, YOU ARE THE FLAME


Learn More:
Ashland Culture of Peace Commission
33 First St, Suite 1, Ashland, OR 97520