When the United Nations (UN) held its International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, the event had a definite Essex County College flavor. The keynote speaker was Dr. Akil Khalfani, Director of the College’s Africana Institute and Sociology professor.
“Sports is one thing where people can come together, even where there is violent conflict,” Dr. Khalfani said following the April 6 event at UN headquarters in New York. He felt that this type of experience would be ideal for Essex students. Accompanying him on the trip were ECC students Tiffany Felton and Alhaji Jabbie, along with some local middle school students.
“The UN’s idea is to discuss how people can be brought closer together through the ideal of sports,”’ Dr. Khalfani said. He said several of the major focuses of the program inlcuded the emphasis on youth sports and those sports that are indigenous (and popular) in certain regions of the world as ways to bring more people peacefully together.
As far as the unifying aspect of sports, Dr. Khalfani gave the high profile example from the recent Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. There, during both opening and closing ceremonies, South and North Korean athletes marched under a unified flag. The two nations also fielded a unified women’s ice hockey team. He had been in Korea earlier this year.
Another speaker during the UN event was Emeka Ezeogu, a retired Nigerian soccer star. “He brought soccer players from around the world to Brazil to assist (now former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) ‘Lula’ in his presidential bid,” Dr. Khalfani said. He noted that this effort for democracy in Brazil is an example of sports in the world today.
The students had the opportunity to meet some of the UN officials at the forum. Dr. Khalfani is on the advisory board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the partners for the April 6 program. “I would like to bring some UN officials to speak at Essex and take more students to the organization’s headquarters,” he said.
Information from the forum included sports encourages:
- Individual development
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- The promotion of gender equality
- Social integration and the development of social capital
- Peace building and conflict prevention/resolution
- Post-disaster/trauma relief and normalization of life
- Economic development
- Communication and social mobilization