By Marcus Lorenzo Penn and Heidi Majano
The morning of Sunday, September 29th was a sunny and nostalgic one for us as the Peaceful World Foundation returned to Sami Sunchild’s Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast Peace Center on Haight Street in San Francisco. Known to many of her close fans as the “Red Vic”, she purchased the historic building in 1977. For our Program Facilitator, Marcus, this was his first experience and he describes,
…upon walking through the threshold one could feel the memories that took place there. With big glass storefront like windows shining light onto the old relics of art and artifacts as well as furniture added to the ‘throwback’ feeling tone coming into the space. A large square wooden table surrounded by chairs and topped with a yummy breakfast medley was prepared for us by the Red Vic to bring our Breakfast Conversations back to their inception place.
Executive Director, Heidi Majano of the Peaceful World Foundation called all attendees attention by starting things off with a brief refresher history of founder Sami Sunchild’s vision for the Red Vic and the Peaceful World Foundation. Heidi recounted Sami’s vision of creating the Red Vic as an international peace hub for travelers and visitors to came together to share their life journey.
“I worked closely with Sami during the last few years of her life and what I have learned during my five years as the director of her foundation is that the peace movement is an inner movement… one that takes us deep into ourselves, where we find ways to trust again, to begin to heal and learn new ways of being in community.”
Later in 2006, Sami established the Peaceful World Foundation and in 2015 it became an active grant making foundation supporting 501-C3 organizations in their peace building efforts. Offering another historical perspective that morning was our current PWF President/CEO Dave Whitridge, who recalled when “The Haight” was in its hay day and when he met Sami at her early peaceful conversations in 2004. He loved them and also remembered Sami’s own extensive art hanging on the walls in the rooms.
Her art was showcased every Sunday morning for a conversation with Red Vic residents, many of whom were international guests and people from the community attended the conversations. Back then there were many different conversations at different tables with different topics. Dave gave us a sample of the questions that were asked at those early breakfast conversations:
“What values from your parents do you remember when you were younger? What event can you recall that changed your life?”
Very much mirroring the make-up of the early Breakfast Conversations, we had a nice mix of participants representing different parts of the world, country, state and Bay Area. Around the table were representatives from Arkansas, the Red Vic itself, Australia, Seattle, Philippines, Brazil, San Antonio, Michigan, El Salvador, San Mateo, Austin and the San Francisco North Bay. As our icebreaker, the question was asked,
“What do you see outside your bedroom window?” The responses were as diverse and varied as all those around the table. This experience also invited us to pause and think of those who do not have a home with a window to look out of.
The energy and Spirit of our late Sami was very much evident throughout the nostalgic morning. The origin of her “Ingredients for a Good Conversation” came from her world travels in her 20’s during the 1940’s. She learned much and found there were core ideals that created the best environment for a conversation. Therefore she integrated these ideals into her Breakfast Conversations, just as Heidi did for our attendees that morning.
Our Breakfast Conversation began with a simple yet profound question posed to our folks around the table, “How do you bring peace into the world?” The very first response was quite touching and the participant indicated they may not do work at homeless shelters, but felt that they do bring space of “emotional peace” to others through writing music. He let us know that he wrote a song about people in our lives that are special and have helped those thinking of suicide. With many times the default thought about peace revolving around conflicts between nation states or particular individuals, it was refreshing to hear someone address the conflict within our feelings and emotions.
Another poignant response came from a worker/manager at the Red Vic, who was thinking about the theory of change and acknowledging the privilege she been benefiting from her upbringing. She eloquently said she is “…trying to build windows where there were once walls” with communities that were previously separated, especially with reentry persons from prisons and building lives for themselves in the community.
A long time resident at the Red Vic shared his inward peaceful journey, “Peace is not a static endeavor. Peace begins with me. I have to be at peace with what’s happening. I am not a quiet peaceful person. Peace goes through stages and I must practice being at peace with what others do. I must redefine fighting and can be fighting in a peaceful way. I can choose how to implement change in people’s lives and mine.”
The last share of the morning provided what may have been the biggest “ah-hah moment”. It came from our participant from Brazil. She realized she does not really think about peace usually. However seeing that she is a sociology professor, she noticed how she looked to avoid conflict with colleagues and students. She promised herself to listen more and provide support. In her sociology teaching she problematizes history and current events, and can’t look at peace without conflict. Her “ah-hah moment” came when she saw the necessity to also talk about the reasons why there are conflicts, and not focus solely on the conflicts themselves. She finally expressed to our group a deep commitment to bring a more peaceful world.
Our participant from Brazil (and all those who attended) perfectly embodied the vision and transformation that our founder Sami Sunchild knew was possible in every human conversation. Openness, respect, sharing, vulnerability, trust, and curiosity that were all showcased at this special “homecoming” Peaceful World Breakfast Conversation, surely helped us all in our unique ways bring a little more peace to this world.