In continuation of a multi-day Mahatma Gandhi celebration across campus last week, community leaders joined hands with Fresno State students and faculty on Saturday in recognition of diversity.
Dr. Lynette Zelezny, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State, welcomed guests and friends from the community, noting the area’s continuing commitment to diversity and tolerance – principles that Gandhi himself promoted every day.
“Your presence here demonstrates that our area’s diversity truly is our strength, and we value and appreciate that,” Zelezny said.
The celebration ranged in events as diverse as the community, including traditional south Indian dancing, meditation led by Sister Hema Patel of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, peace songs by an elderly group known as “The Raging Grannies” and short speeches from community and civic leaders.
Community cooperation and empowerment were central themes of the celebration, including the development of youth programs to “stop the hate, stop the violence, and build a culture of peace” throughout Fresno.
On behalf of Fresno State President Joseph Castro, Zelezny proclaimed Oct. 2 – Gandhi’s birthday – into perpetuity as the “Stop the Hate” day campus wide. This proclamation matched one made by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who also declared Oct. 2 as Mahatma Gandi Memorial Day citywide.
Fresno Unified School District board member Christopher De La Cerda also spoke at the event, highlighting the district’s kindness campaign called Human Element. It was started by Fresno Unified students as a program against bullying and has now received national attention.
“The motto of the Human Element is very simple. ‘Human kind: be both,’ which asks us all to be human, and be kind,” De La Cerda said. “These young people in our district started this, and now they are being asked in different areas of the nation to come and speak.
“‘You be the change you want to see’ is something that these young people have embraced, to be able to be a part of this today is an inspiration to know that we can all be that change, to be able to share.”
Two winners of an essay contest on bullying, Samyuktaa Jai Krishnan of Maple Creek Middle School and Vinisha Prajapati of Clovis North High School, also read their essays on spreading tolerance, equality and dignity.
The essay contest, along with the entire celebration, was conceived and planned by Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, a Fresno State professor emeritus of social work education. The event was also in collaboration with a fundraising campaign on campus to establish the Gandhi Memorial Trust Fund.
Through the memorial trust, Kapoor hopes to continue the celebration of Gandhi’s life and ideals for many years to come on campus.
“Without Ghandi, what life would I have,” Kapoor questioned. “I might not be here.”
Kapoor noted the importance of the Civil Disobedience Movement that lead to Indian independence in 1947, and the 80 other nations who followed in their footsteps thereafter.
“They sewed the seeds for liberation and freedom in many other countries,” Kapoor said. “Because of their lasting legacy, they will live on for generations to come.”
A Dandi March was also held throughout campus in commemoration of Ghandi’s own 240 mile Salt March that triggered the wider Civil Disobedience Movement throughout India.
“As someone who taught social psychology at Fresno State for 20 years, I taught my students the works of Gandhi, studying his works of civil disobedience which he took to action,” Zelezny said. “It was through his mentoring of his protégée Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the spirit of nonviolence came from India to the civil rights movement here in America. Gandhi’s legacy lives on in all of us.”