The Year of Altruism: A Movement for Humanity is designed to “move caring and sharing to a new level,” said Greenville County Councilwoman Lillian Brock Fleming during the initiative's kickoff at the Peace Center Friday morning.
The non-profit group aims to foster acts of kindness in the community. Many groups are coming together for the project, including religious, civic and educational organizations.
“It's only the tip of the delightful iceberg,” said Rabbi Marc Wilson.
Wilson, one of the founders of the Year of Altruism, along with Bob St. Claire, said the initiative is rooted in the commemoration of the Holocaust.
2008 was the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or “the Night of Broken Glass,” considered the beginning of the Holocaust. During the night of terror, Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes were destroyed; more than 90 Jews were killed; and 30,000 more were transported to Adolf Hitler's concentration camps.
“5 years ago, we put together a commemoration of Kristallnacht and, to our great surprise, it was something that really magnetized the spirit of the community,” Wilson said. “We expected 15-25, that grew to about 200 – and 800 people showed up that night.”
That lead to Wilson and St. Claire saying,” What are we going to do now?”
The seed of the idea was spinning “Kristallnacht around on its axis,” Wilson said.
“Five years ago, it was all about brutality and inhumanity and suffering and torture, he said. “Now, why don't we celebrate what's good about humanity, how human beings still have the capacity for being compassionate, loving, caring, charitable, idealistic, altruistic?”
They realized what they wanted to do “could not be done in one night,” and so the idea grew.
“We went to all facets of the community and crossed all kinds of racial, faith and political lines and the support was just incredible, way beyond our imagination,” Wilson said.
Over 70 community partners have committed to doing something in the name of the Year of Altruism, Wilson said.
“We're looking at doing a number of cornerstone community wide events,” Wilson said.
One of the biggest of those events was recently announced.
“The author of 56 books, a man who personifies the dichotomy of the tragedy of the Holocaust and the potential for humanity and altruism, Elie Wiesel,” said Dr. Courtney Tollison Hartness.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and survivor of the Holocaust will speak at the Peace Center October 1.
Tickets for Elie Wiesel's are on sale now.
“When he spoke recently at Penn State University, he had 6,700 people come out,” Wilson said.
“We have a number of that type of captivating program in line already and you'll be hearing more about them,” Wilson said. “We have individual churches, individual organizations, individual educational entities all committing to do their thing in their idiom, in their community, but opening it up to the entire community. It can be anything for a gospel concert to a lecture series to a community service program. The opportunities are just endless.”
Tollison Hartness said that, beginning in April, Greenville will be “blanketed by opportunities to engage, learn and support our community through cultural, educational, philanthropic and faith-based endeavors.”
Other events include the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht and events recognizing African American History Month, Women's History Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Domestic Violence Prevention Month and the National Day of Prayer.
“Our calendar is becoming very full,” Tollison Hartness said. “We are thrilled about that.”
The Year of Altruism will feature other visiting speakers and performers as well as local talent.
Local partners include Carolina Ballet Theatre, Christ Church Episcopal School, Centre Stage, Greenville County School District, United Way, Meals on Wheels, the Upcountry History Museum, North Greenville University and more, she said.
Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel has created a special concert that will be performed by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra on the anniversary of Kristallnackt. Check back with Patch for more on this concert.
Furman University is one of the effort's partners and will be enlisting its student body to help.
“We are deeply engaging our students in the celebration of altruism,” said Boyd Yarbrough, special assistant to the Furman University President.
More than 70 percent of the university's students take part in the Max and Trudi Heller Service Corps at Furman.
“We're taking that cadre of students and we want to educate them on the beauty and the atrocities that have come before us,” Yarbrough said. “We want to engage them in acts of service and compassion. We want to empower them to make a difference as we move forward so we make Greenville and our country and our world a better place.”
In addition, the university is partnering with the Upcountry History Museum and the Heller Service Corps for a special exhibit at the museum, and will sponsor a speakers' series, plays and performances in conjunction with the Year of Altruism.
The Year of Altruism aims to celebrate universality and reach out to the entire community to bring it closer together.
“The true wonders of this celebration will be our community and especially our children,” Brock Fleming said. She recalled asking her father about her race and ethnicity.
“He said to me, 'The only thing wrong with being black is thinking that there's something wrong with being black,'” Brock Fleming said. “Altruism is a time and a concept where more little children will not be worried about what color they are but, 'How can I give?' The more we share, show kindness, the more we care about each other, the more we'll find that our differences will become less and less visible.”
For more information on Year of Altruism, visit yearofaltruism.org.