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Let’s not give up on the dream to become the ‘City of Peace’

Ekaterina Zagladina, president of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, has breakfast with Jim Hannan and Egbert Perry at the Georgia Aquarium (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

The vision to brand Atlanta as a city of peace became a bit cloudy recently when local leaders decided to postpone their efforts to host a World Summit for Nobel Peace Laureates in 2023.

But the vision is too important to fade away.

Hosting the World Summit was part of a grander vision to create an ecosystem of peace in Atlanta. The ecosystem would build upon the foundation established by the late Martin Luther King Jr., a champion of non-violent civil rights; and former President Jimmy Carter, who has worked diligently to promote peace and human rights across the globe.

Ekaterina Zagladina, president of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, with Bernice King in Merida Mexico in September 2019 (Photo by Bob Hope)

Both King and Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize, which makes both the King Center and the Carter Center natural bookends to have Atlanta be the place that works cohesively on ways we can have a more peaceful world.

“Being a city of peace has the potential to brand Atlanta on the global stage with a brand that is so necessary today become of all the tension and hostility across the globe,” said Egbert Perry, CEO of the Integral Group, who was one of the co-chairs of the Atlanta Peace Initiative, the entity that has been working for several years to create an ecosystem of peace.

Along with Perry, the other co-chairs were Jim Hannan of Koch Industries and Martha Brooks, retired corporate CEO who is currently chair of CARE’s board. Bob Hope, a longtime public relations executive and civic leader, has been the CEO of the Atlanta Peace Initiative.

It was Hope who sent a letter to Ekaterina Zagladina, secretary for the Nobel Peace Laureates, saying:

“Our dreams were big and our vision bold, but vision without funding and broad community support can fade,” Hope wrote to Zagladina. “We appreciate you and your work, and we treasure your friendship.  It is with great regret that we forgo our efforts, but we see no route to successfully hosting the summit at this time. We remain hopeful for the future.”

Perry said there were “a lot of distractions” that got in the way of the efforts to host the World Summit. Those included COVID-19, the social unrest, an upsurge in crime, issues of equity, the economy and the changing political profile in Atlanta, Georgia and nationally. Although Perry believes the community could have hosted the Summit in 2023, it would have been a heavy lift for a few people rather than a broader effort. Rotary International was a natural global partner, but the timing wasn’t right.

“The idea of being a city of peace ought to be a vision everybody can embrace,” Perry said. “We need greater community support to make it happen.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young talks about the vision of a City of Peace in July 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Sam Konigsberg, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Peace Initiative, said all the pieces are in place to realize the vision. The failed efforts to host the Summit in 2015, due to management and control issues didn’t help. But the Atlanta Peace Initiative had put all the necessary guardrails in place to be transparent and magnanimous.

“We literally have all the ingredients,” said Konigsberg, who mentioned the King Center, the Carter Center as well as a host of other Atlanta-based institutions. “The effort needs a champion – whether it be an individual or an organization.”

Konigsberg said the Atlanta Peace Initiative needed to $1.5 million to sign a memo of understanding with the Secretariat of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. It would have cost a total of $5 million to host the World Summit in Atlanta. And it would cost another $5 million to realize the grander vision of creating a Peace University, a Peace district and securing the North American headquarters of the Nobel Peace Laureates.

“We have done a lot of work,” Konigsberg said. The Secretariat of the Nobel Laureates did leave it open ended. So did the King Center and the Carter Center.”

Paige Alexander, CEO of the Carter Center, wrote as much in a text:

“The Carter Center remains interested in the Peace Laureates Summit concept and appreciates the efforts of the Atlanta Committee that has been the catalyst to keep this possibility active. Given the many extraordinary challenges we all face at this moment the timing of a proposed first Summit event is just too soon for us to commit supporting.  As Bob Hope has said, we all look forward to future exploration of this idea.

“More immediately, The Carter Center is working intensively to apply lessons learned from our global activities as we design programs that will address racial injustice in Georgia and nationwide. We are seeking also to foster peace by building resilience in the face of political conflict in our own country. As these programs come to fruition, we feel we would be in a stronger position to play a role in hosting a major convening like this in the future.”

The vision of having a gathering of the living Nobel Peace Laureates meeting in Atlanta for a summit has great allure. Thirty-six Nobel Laureates attended the 2019 Summit in Merida, Mexico. Given the ease of traveling to Atlanta, organizers believe a Summit here would draw a record number of laureates.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter with the Nobel Peace Prize (Photos courtesy of the Carter Library)

Imagine a “Davos for Peace” or a South by Southwest Festival focused on all aspects of peace.

“It’s bringing together the brightest, most accomplished minds working on peace,” Konigsberg said. “We want to showcase the cutting-edge ideas for peace in an expo that covers the full spectrum of our daily lives.”

One area that has gotten some traction is the concept of a Peace University. Twelve local colleges and universities have signed on to the effort to collaborate around the study and research of peace.

It would be wonderful if the community could galvanize behind the Atlanta Peace Initiative. Ideally, we could host the World Summit in 2024, the 60th anniversary of King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Then we could work towards the grander vision to build an ecosystem for peace.

In short, the vision of Atlanta as a city of peace is too powerful for us to let it die.

Maria Saporta

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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