Joey Cheek speaks at the Philly leg of the Olympic torch relay for Darfur
A symbolic Olympic torch relay is making its way around the world to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, in western Sudan, and to call on China, host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, to use its considerable influence with Sudan to end the violence there.
The torch relay began in August in eastern Chad, across the border from Darfur. It has been traveling around the world, and came to Philadelphia on Sunday, October 7. I had the opportunity to attend the local event, which featured speedskating superstar and Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek as the keynote speaker. Cheek is an athlete with a heart, having founded a coalition of athletes committed to raising awareness of the crisis in Darfur and bringing an end to the violence.
The event was held outdoors in Philadelphia's historical district, with a direct view of Independence Hall to the south and the National Constitution Center to the north. The location seemed quite fitting, as several Darfuran children and adults were in attendance, now enjoying America's freedom and liberty, which began right there more than 200 years ago.
Some of the tourists walking by, however, were apparently not so inspired.
A woman walked by with three young children of elementary school age. The children had noticed the Darfuran children their own age participating in the event, and seemed very interested. They asked their mother what was going on. The mother replied, "They're having a talk." And she whisked them away.
Signs and banners everywhere advertised the fact that this was about much more than just having a talk.
This mother passed up a great opportunity to teach her children about how we can help others who are suffering in other parts of the world -- and in a way far more effective than the method used when I was a kid, of citing starving children in India to lay a guilt trip on a picky eater.
But I was disappointed more by a wealthy-looking middle-aged woman who walked by with her male companion, the latter of whom seemed interested in the Darfur-related festivities. The woman, however, felt differently. As they passed me, I heard her say, "I think it's in Africa. Why should I care about something in Africa?"
In his moving speech later in the event, Joey Cheek answered that woman's question, although she was no longer around to hear it.
Cheek joked that people might wonder why they should take political advice from someone who makes his living skating in circles, in tights. His answer was that he had the opportunity to follow his dreams, and he felt that he therefore has an obligation to help others follow their dreams as well -- including the persecuted citizens of Darfur.
And, as a further answer to the rich lady who can't be bothered with African affairs, I would like to add these words from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Life is about more than just you.