The Truth Will Set You Free: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

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Yesterday, Armenians around the world commemorated the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians were systematically murdered by the Ottoman Turkish Empire for refusing to renounce their Christian faith and Armenian culture.

There were marches of 100,000+ people over the weekend; performances of new music, films and plays; peaceful demonstrations at memorial monuments, lectures and sacred services; and a shining new tribute: the recently inaugurated Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, co-developed by Armenian and non-Armenian philanthropists, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and George and Amal Clooney — “On behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors” — and awarded “to an individual whose actions have had an exceptional impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes.” The award was announced yesterday in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital (click here for announcement), and will be announced there each year.

These forward-looking, inspiring events help show that the Turks and their Genocide of Armenians did not succeed in eliminating Armenians — they show that the world is starting to understand and embrace the truth of our history. But whether the world ever fully accepts it or not, Armenians are stronger and freer than ever by faith in God, and by perseverance to the values that matter most: love, compassion, dignity, spiritual commitment, regardless of what lies or horrors swarm around us. Although Turkey’s recogition would go a long way in healing many hearts and souls, Armenians don’t have to wait for that reluctant recognition to accomplish all they were put on this earth to do.

But genocides continue, as we see in today’s news. Christians and other groups keep getting persecuted for their beliefs, particularly in the Muslim world. And countries, because of their power, allies or strategic connections and resources, continue to literally get away with murder. Even today, Turkey denies carrying out the Armenian Genocide 100 years ago.

On the PR battlefront, the current Turkish goverment is also trying to murder the truth of history by funding full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, buying up billboards near Genocide recogition event sites, and even creating websites claiming to seek truth and peace about the 1915 genocide yet which only deny its realities.

So the fight continues to advocate for full recognition, to tell our own true stories, and to sustain our heritage, culture and faith in new ways. One theater organization, the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA), accomplishes this mission by encouraging Armenian stories and wider human-rights stories to be told onstage via playwriting contests and readings. As ADAA’s slogan reads: “It’s Time Our Stories Were Told.” We can never stop telling them.

For my husband and me, our day took place at the 31st Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration in New York, co-sponsored by the Armenian fraternal and charitable organizations we are deeply involved in, The Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

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More than 3,000 people congregated in Times Square, to hear politicians, academics, advocates, clergy and community leaders (including my husband) speak the truth and to urge everyone to participate in local advocacy as much as possible — calling your congressman to get an Armenian Genocide resolution passed; writing your State Assemblyman to get the Armenian Genocide taught in the schools, building relationships and telling our stories as much as possible to raise awareness. It was an inspiring event.

And yet, just two days before, a pro-Turkish group hired a plane to skywrite messages of Armenian Genocide denial high in the New York skies, also paying a troupe of people to dance below as the messages appeared.

Really?

The mere presence of denial and antagonism does not mean that truth-tellers should stop telling the truth, or stop advocating for it. In fact, the presence of opposition affirms our need to get the truth out there even more. Not with hatred or closedmindedness, but with an honest view toward recognition, repararation and perhaps, even reconciliation. And I think only God can change people’s hearts, if they are open to it.

But even if those things never occur, the victory is won. We were not wiped out. We are still here. And as voices young and old rang out to the heavens yesterday, our sainted ancestors heard and smiled in glory.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:38

Onward.

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For more information:

About the Armenian Genocide:

http://www.armenian-genocide.org/

http://www.armeniangenocidemuseum.org/#home

http://armeniangenocide100.org/en/

About The Aurora Prize: https://auroraprize.com/en/prize

About the Knights and Daughters of Vartan: www.kofv.org

About the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance: www.armeniandrama.org

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Tomorrow, Tomorrow…

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Like most pre-teen girls across the nation, my girls are obsessed with the Sony Pictures  remake of “Annie” right now. A fine and creatively updated production, by the way. (Yes, they’ve seen the original and like the new one better; next is the stage version — we’ll see what they think of the real thing).

The girls love all the songs, but of course my 1980’s childhood is back in full swing with their obsession with “Tomorrow.”  Probably five million girls will sing “Tomorrow” for talent shows around the country this year, or sing along with the soundtrack in their rooms bouncing on their bed the next few months. (I’m more of a “Maybe” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You” gal, now, myself).

But of course, “Tomorrow” has quite a different meaning for an adult than it does for a kid.  It doesn’t always mean a new hope — it more often means we have to finally deal with all the stuff we’ve put off. The stack of unopened mail, the bills waiting to be paid, the dirty dishes, or unwashed/unfolded laundry.
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My Worst Trip Ever and Why I Loved It

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I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization that helps sustain our cultural heritage, develop Armenian women leaders and support Armenian families around the world.  Some would call it a sorority, but I consider it much deeper and stronger than that. However, one similarity is that fellow members call each other ‘sisters.’

And let’s just say that my fellow ‘sisters’ and I had an interesting travel adventure this past week, to say the least. As I write, we national officers are on the final leg of a very long trip across multiple cities and airlines.

In two weeks, we visited five chapters of our organization across the east and midwest. On our most recent trip, we had to travel through seven cities to visit three chapters. We missed two flights due to weather and plane delays. We were twice told the planes would be held for us, only to see the plane slowly back away from the gate the minute we got there, after we ran — yes, ran — through multiple terminals.

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The gate agent on one end said, “Oh yes, we called already; they’re holding the flight for you; go, go, go!”

The gate agent on the other end said, “We never got a call…”

These and other snafus resulted in two unexpected overnight stays in two different, non-visitation cities.

“But you can get your luggage at Terminal E….” And a half hour later:

“Oh, no your luggage isn’t at Terminal E; it’s at Terminal C, and you can’t access it until tomorrow.”

Then we were delayed 2.5 hrs on another flight because the pilot never showed up and the airline had to search for another pilot last minute.

In another case, our flight was delayed 4.5 hours because Vice President Joe Biden was landing at the airport on Air Force Two for a last minute visit, grounding all scheduled flights for the entire morning.

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Sometimes, our luggage made it to our destinations when we did; in other cases it did not. At one point, we got our luggage after being redirected multiple times, only to open two suitcases to find the contents soaking wet — apparently left out in the thunderous New England rain. Two of my officers caught colds and also injured their back and shoulder. And I’m not sure we ever slept more than 4 hours on any given night — and not always in a bed.

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Those who have seen the film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, about a frazzled father and his unexpected friend, overcoming hurdle after hurdle, trying to make it home for Thanksgiving, will certainly understand the frustrations we felt.

But we love our ‘sisters.’

That’s what kept coming back to our minds.

But we love our sisters, our fellow members. And we did not want anything to get in the way of our visiting them, after they had been planning and preparing for weeks with warm anticipation.

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Sure enough, the visits to the gals of Worcester, Providence, Boston, Milwaukee and Chicago, were some of the loveliest, laughter-filled times we’ve ever had in the organization. Truly, we will never forget them. Those loving times of warm welcome and fellowship, celebration of common history, partnership in a shared vision — and laughter about all our craziness, into the wee hours — are what our organization is all about. They are what service and friendship are all about.

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When our relationships, life situations, or writing projects take us on all sorts of unexpected delays, detours, or outright stoppages, we have to remember:

But this is who I love; this is what I love; this is why and how I love.

And that sense of love-centered purpose is what enables us to keep going, to see the journey through to completion — and to be grateful, especially as Thanksgiving nears. The pockets of love that we open along the way of a disjointed journey are worth all the headaches. Most of the time.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m still writing a few letters to United Airlines and US Airways. Soon as I finish this blog. They’re gonna have to show me some love too.

Onward!

P.S. My book BRAVURA is out on Kindle — the first in the “The Music We Made” series about a group of classical musicians in 1960’s London.  You can order it here. Downloads are free through 10/20!!

Leading from the Heart

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I had the opportunity this past week to preside over the annual conference of a national women’s organization for which I currently serve as national chairman. It was a whirlwind of hard work, good dialogue, much celebration and very little sleep.

Although I had been to this conference and participated in committee and regional leadership positions before, it was quite different being the ‘buck stops here’ leader. I got quite a different perspective presiding over business sessions, rapping that gavel, calling for the vote, giving speeches, announcing new goals and listening to so many comments about what members want and need.

Here are some of the things I took away this week as a leader and as a writer/speaker:

People want their leaders to speak up.

Of course people want their ideas to be heard. But they also want their leader to be decisive and have their own ideas. More often than not, members of a group would rather respond to a specific leader directive (yay or nay) than be told by their leader: “Well, whatever you want to do…” Ideally, an organization can benefit from integrating the ideas of leadership and of members at large.

People want their leaders to listen.

Sometimes people just want to know that you understand them and will think about what they’re staying or suggesting. Even if you don’t agree or decide not to proceed with the idea, members feel respected when they feel heard.

Your main message or vision must be articulated well, if people are going to buy into it.

You could have the greatest idea in the world but if you or your representatives can’t convey that idea well, can’t share the message with conviction and power, no one is going to feel compelled to do anything about it. They’re not going to take ownership of it unless it connects with them inwardly in a significant way. So a leader must not only speak fairly well and be clear in presenting their idea, but they also have to show their own personal connection to the idea and why it matters to them. That will help others see how the idea or vision pertains to them as well.

If you’re not passionate about what you’re saying/doing, it shows.

One thing that I appreciate about the organization I lead is that it incorporates a lot of the different parts of who I am, and thus I feel strongly about the group and its role in our community. I am passionate about what it does and what it has the potential to do for women and families around the world. Fortunately, so my members tell me, that passion shows. They have often commented that my sincerity and conviction when speaking motivates them to do more in their local chapters and communities to achieve our collective goals. That is hugely satisfying for me. Whatever we feel or don’t feel, it will show.

You can’t please everybody.

Leaders are usually in office only a short amount of time. They have to prioritize because they can’t accomplish everything they set out to do, and they can’t respond to everyone’s requests. They have to be selective. And that’s all right — the finite nature of elected leadership positions forces us to think hard about what matters most and pursue it with urgency and heart.

Leaders, artists, writers — all of us are helped by the perennial questions we’ve all heard:

What would you do if you knew you had a month to live? If you knew this was the last novel/story/book/play you were going to write, what would you want it to say? What do you want your epitaph to say?

When we ask such questions, it helps us refine what matters most to us, what goals are most important to us, what overall purpose touches us most deeply, what ‘story’ we feel we MUST tell. Whether we are leading an organization, a family, a theater troupe, or any other group, we have to remember to act, speak and listen, with our whole mind and heart, to get our story across and to get others to come alongside on our journey.

Onward!

This blog post was originally published on July 7, 2014 but has certainly remained true in my recent work with the same organization, which is why I wanted to share it with those who may not have seen it before.

Mom’s Job

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My younger daughter’s pre-school teacher told me at one afternoon pickup, early in the school year, that she had asked my daughter if I worked. My then-four-year-old promptly had answered:

 

“Oh, no. My mom doesn’t work. She’s Mommy. She just writes plays.”

 

I laughed. I liked that my girl saw my being her mommy as my main ‘job’ — because it absolutely is, first and foremost. And I’m grateful to my husband that I don’t need to work for financial reasons.

 

But it was also interesting that my daughter didn’t see my creative writing or speaking work as work, like Daddy’s ‘work’. And while that bothered me at first, I eventually decided I liked her response.

 

Because my writing is not work, or a burden, or a requirement. It is a passion I am blessed to choose with joy.  And my girls need to see that such joy in their ‘work’ is possible.

 

Even when the writing/creative work doesn’t always bring joy, it is still my thing. And every woman needs to have something that is ‘her thing.’

 

My daughters have seen some of my plays (not the most ‘grown-up’ ones, they know to say), and they have even appeared in a couple of them. They’ve seen me speak about my work in public. They know all of it as being something I love to do and must do. But they now see that it takes time and effort, just like any other ‘work’ would.

 

Sometimes I tell them about my stories; sometimes I tell them that they’ll find out when they’re older.  Just like I ask them about what excites them, they do the same to me.

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Onward!

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Welcome to my blog! This is certainly long overdue but I look forward to sharing here with you often about what’s going on in writing, film/theater, faith, culture and community – in my life and in the lives of those I admire!

We just finished screening a short film I adapted and directed, “Reflection Day,” at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, as well as the Western New York Black Film Festival.

Reflection Day’s Trailer on IMDB

The film is about Ms. Johnson, an elderly African American woman in a senior home, suffering from Alzheimer’s, who compels her caregiver Andre to ‘take her to vote’ on what she thinks is Election Day, to have peace with her past.  It’s based on the stage play by Chuck Cummings.

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