On a coffee table lies a copy of The New York Times. One headline refers to Louisiana's Jena Six, the group of African-American youths seen by many as the victims of a racially biased justice system; other stories are about Iraq. It seems both a fitting tribute and a rueful irony that the children of two men who fought against racism and a divisive war have convened on this day, and at this time, when the world is still bedeviled by strife and afflicted with an at-large malaise.
But they're here as part of their efforts to change their time; the photo shoot is all about Gen II Peacemakers, a group that includes King, Kennedy, and a handful of others who likewise inherited world-changer DNA. Their goal is to bring relief to trouble spots around the globe, by getting all sides in a given conflict to sit down and talk. Their motivation, in the words of member Naomi Tutu: "We're all prisoners of hope."
"I think that after my mom's passing, I wanted to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life," says King, referring to Coretta Scott King, who died in January 2006. Before that time, King had served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization his father helped create, and the King Center, which memorializes his parents' work. But now he wanted to continue that work, and to that end he created the nonprofit organization Realizing the Dream. Gen II is one of the organization's chief initiatives; it was sparked by a trip to Israel in autumn 2006, when King was looking for "constructive ways to be helpful in the peace process."
King envisions a sort of United Nations in microcosm, minus the agendas and special interests, with each member of Gen II bringing his or her own resources and contacts to bear in creating actionable, nonviolent solutions to humanitarian crises while pursuing social, economic, and political justice. The group's logo—a photograph of King III's hand flashing the peace sign—is a visual double entendre, symbolizing not just peace but the number 2, as in "generation next."
Kerry Kennedy, who created the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, wrote the book Speak Truth to Power, and has campaigned against the death penalty, says, "We have these big tails that we try not to let wag the dog. But they can be put to good use." When King approached Kennedy about joining Gen II, she says, "I immediately signed up."
Christine Chavez, on the other hand, thought somebody was playing a joke when King introduced himself on the phone. Chavez is the granddaughter of the late farm laborer, activist, and cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America, Cesar Chavez. "When my grandfather was in jail in the '70s, Coretta Scott King came out and visited with him and the farmworkers. And although he never met Dr. King, they communicated by telegram." The family synergies don' stop there, however. "Kerry Kennedy's father put farmworkers on the map by doing a Senate hearing about how they were being treated and by traveling to Delano when my grandfather was on a hunger strike." After working for the United Farm Workers union for years, Chavez is currently the district director for a senator in the California state legislature and is that office's liaison to the labor movement.
Nontombi Naomi Tutu is the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who stood strong against apartheid in his native South Africa and whose spiritual leadership paved the way for the transition to democracy. She is the founder and chairperson of the Tutu Foundation for Development and Relief in Southern Africa and focuses on the rights of young women.
Justin Trudeau is the son of the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, whose legacy includes the preservation of national unity and the embedding of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in his country's constitution. He was the first world leader to meet with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their peace tour. Justin is on the board of Canada's national youth service program and will be running for a parliamentary seat in the next federal election.
As the five peacemakers meet and greet in the photo studio, there's a palpable buzz—the same kind of energy that charged the group's inaugural meeting in London in July, when they started hammering out an agenda and came up with their mission statement, the Declaration of Interdependence. "Most of us didn' know one another before London, but the energy and warmth almost right away was just amazing," says Tutu. "We examined. We debated. We were saying to each other, 'Oh my goodness, I'm so glad to meet you, because your grandfather was one of my greatest heroes.' That connection helped us."
The group has identified four target spots: Darfur, the Middle East, Burma, and North Korea. The plan is to start with a fact-finding mission to each area, building relationships with key people and organizations in the process. Press conferences, summits, and reports will focus attention on humanitarian crises. Trudeau says, "We are about shining a light. In many places, human rights abuses take place under cover of night. That is not a metaphor. That is literally true." On the other hand, as Tutu says, "We don' want to be disaster tourists." Gen II members will speak out and use their influence with key leaders and decision makers. They will organize relief efforts and raise financial aid. The members also want to leave behind tangible things: systems for clean drinking water, improvements to hospitals. And they want to expand their circle outward. "We don' want to just be about ourselves," says Chavez. "We want other people to be involved in this process as well. I think the time is right. There's a war going on, there's a sense of despair, and I think people are looking for something."
Three of Gen II's founding members aren' in attendance at the photo shoot, but their presence is felt nonetheless. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the late Mahatma Gandhi, cofounded India's Center for Social Unity, whose mission is to alleviate poverty and caste discrimination; he also cofounded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, in 1991. Nadim Gemayel, the son of Bashir Gemayel (the Lebanese military commander who, as president-elect, was assassinated in 1982), is politically active in Lebanon. And Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, daughter of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after signing the Oslo Accords peace agreement with the Palestinians, chairs the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies Administrative Committee and is a former member of the Knesset.
In 1968 Dr. King said, "We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools." In 2007 Kerry Kennedy suggests the best way to get there: "The government's not going to do it. The military is not going to do it. The multinationals aren' going to do it. Wal-Mart's not going to do it. Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' And this is a small group of determined people. A group of smart, committed, determined people."