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Atlanta on a quest to hold 2020 Nobel peace summit

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 29, 2018

In a case of déjà vu, Atlanta is once again seeking to host the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, this time in 2020.

Back in October 2013, Atlanta was awarded the 2015 World Summit, which was expected to be attended by more than 2,000 official delegates. Then-Mayor Kasim Reed said at the time that the event would “put the city of Atlanta in the heart of the international stage, and it’s going to continue to strengthen the recognition of Atlanta as one of the leading cities in the world.”

But top city leaders later lost confidence in the event’s local organizer and withdrew their support. Several attempts to find a resolution among the various parties were unsuccessful. The 2015 event was ultimately held in Barcelona, Spain. Last year’s event was in Bogota, Colombia.

Nobel Peace Laureates

Ekaterina Zagladina with Laura Turner Seydel at the Rotary Club of Atlanta in February (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Now, a strong contingent of Atlanta leaders is backing a new effort to bring all the living Nobel Laureates to the city for a peace summit in the first week of December 2020.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has sent a letter to Ekaterina Zagladina, president of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which decides where the summit will be held every year, stating that the “City of Atlanta officially supports being the host city for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in the year 2020.”

This time there seems to be a much greater sense of consensus within the Atlanta community.

The effort has received the early support of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, The Carter Center, The King Center and key members of the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

Several leaders are also backing the effort:

Former President Jimmy Carter, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize;

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Carter administration;

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, which is named for her father who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964;

Laura Turner Seydel, who headed the host committee on the aborted effort to hold the summit in 2015; and

Bob Hope, a veteran Atlanta public relations executive who is heading up the efforts to host the 2020 summit and who is in talks with Rotary International to become affiliated with the event.

“Atlanta is an ideal city to have a peace summit,” Hope said in a phone interview on June 25 while attending Rotary International’s convention in Toronto. Atlanta has good relationships with a number of living Nobel Peace Laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

Hope was part of an Atlanta delegation that traveled to Italy in mid-April to meet with Zagladina and other summit leaders to discuss the possibility of bringing the summit to Atlanta.

Bob Hope

“Everyone was very supportive of Atlanta,” Hope said. “They have strong respect for Atlanta with its civil rights history and as a center for peace.”

Zagladina also had visited Atlanta in February to meet with local leaders and hold exploratory talks on reviving the idea of hosting the summit.

Mayor Bottoms said Atlanta hosting the summit fits with the city’s identity.

“It really highlights the place Atlanta has in the heart of the world — where we come together and celebrate so many honorable people,” Bottoms said.

Bottoms also expressed hope that it could lead to an even closer relationship with the Nobel Peace Summit organization, including the possible relocation of its headquarters to Atlanta or making Atlanta a regular meeting place for the World Summit.

“Anytime someone is talking about relocating to Atlanta, it is something we will work to help make happen,” Bottoms said. “It solidifies our role as a global city of peace.”

Hope said Atlanta leaders now are focused on hosting the 2020 summit.

“Let’s pull off 2020 flawlessly,” Hope said. “Then we can talk about having recurring summits in Atlanta.”

Hope also is in talks with Rotary International, which holds a peace conference every year, about a possible affiliation with the Nobel Summit group. Rotary’s board will vote in October about whether to join forces with Atlanta and help organize the 2020 summit.

Seydel, who along with her father Ted Turner was initially strongly behind the 2015 summit before having a falling out with its local organizer, said she is “thrilled to death” with the possibility of Atlanta hosting the 2020 summit.

“I have long thought Atlanta was the right city,” she said. “[2015] just wasn’t the right time. With Bob Hope at the helm, he will make it happen. He’s good at navigating through any barriers.”

She agreed that if Atlanta hosts a successful summit, “then the doors are open to other opportunities.”

The possibilities include linking the summit with a vision to have the Rodney Cook Sr. Park, now under construction, as a peace park or part of a peace district.

Young, Hope and other local leaders also are planning a trip in August to Oslo, Norway, the city where the peace prize is awarded, to further discuss the idea of the world summit coming to Atlanta.

Young, who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights era, understands the powerful connection between the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize and that of King.

In fact, a Martin Luther King Jr. exhibition is opening up at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 28.

In a telephone interview, the exhibition’s curator, Ashley Woods, said that the Nobel Museum and the Nobel Foundation have an average of 1 million people visiting their sites through various media channels.

“Half of those are looking for information about Dr. Martin Luther King,” Woods said. “He’s the most sought-after Nobel Laureate of them all.”

The idea for the King exhibit at the Nobel Museum actually emerged out of the failed attempt to host the summit in 2015.

“We have already forged a strong relationship with Atlanta,” said Woods, who added that the “whole King family” has been invited to attend the exhibition opening in September.

For Hope, the real opportunity exists in Atlanta gaining further recognition for its unique historical role in civil and human rights as well as peace efforts.

Referring to the annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, Hope said “Atlanta can become the Davos of Peace.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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