Peace Maker Spotlight
Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree
New York, USA
Mattie said we must “live peace” and we must “make peace a habit — something that is a part of our everyday words and actions, at home and at school and at work and in the community.” Akin Salawu strives to make this his reality in his personal and professional life.
Akin first learned about Mattie in the middle of the night while recovering from a minor medical procedure. Then, he heard the “whispers in the wind” — which he believes guide him along the pathways to peace, if he chooses to listen. Peace to Akin is about recognizing our interconnectedness, with each other and with our world. In celebrating this understanding of peace, Akin chose to create a video using one of Mattie’s poems, “I AM,” which is about being connected. This video has been shared by Mattie’s mom, Jeni, during many peace presentations, and it continues to inspire the people who participated in the project, and those who view the finished product.
Now, as we celebrate individuals and groups who move from “attitude to action” to spread peace in our world, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Akin Salawu as our Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree for our May-June post.
Below are Akin’s responses
to our interview questions.
What would you like to share about yourself?
My name is Akin Salawu. I was born and raised in Somerset, New Jersey.
I am very passionate about my writing, both playwriting and screenwriting. I’ve been lucky enough to win a number of honors and awards from my writing.
A few years ago I started rock climbing and then participated in my first Olympic Distance Triathlon. When it’s warm, I love biking through Prospect Park.
My little brother, Jason, has spina bifida, but he has always been the real athlete of the family. As a child, he was the number one junior wheelchair racer in the country. For a while I was traveling from wheelchair race to wheelchair race with my family wearing a t-shirt that read “Jason’s Brother”.
I smile quite a lot. I think it sometimes makes people uncomfortable. If a bird swoops overhead in sync with a song I’m listening to, that’d be enough to keep me smiling for most of the day. One of my coworkers likes to ask, “Why are you always smiling?” Turns out the best response is — a smile.
Tell us about your work.
I work as a film and television editor. Every once in a while, I’ll hear a whisper in the wind to create something. Usually good things grow out of listening to those whispers.
That’s how the “I AM” video I made celebrating Mattie’s poem came to be. And that is also how I got heavily involved in the Obama ’08 Presidential Campaign.
One of the highlights of working on the Obama ’08 campaign was getting to edit videos made out of photos people sent me of their work. It was really wonderful getting photos from hundreds of people who just wanted to feel connected. I was very lucky to be a part of that experience.
What does peace mean to you?
To me, peace means accepting how deeply interconnected we are.
I suppose I’ve shared peace through volunteer work, my writing, my videos, and hopefully my day to day interactions with others.
While a member of the Public Theater’s Inaugural Emerging Writers group, I wrote a play about four paralyzed men in rehab. These main characters were a 9/11 fire fighter, an Iraq veteran, an aneurysm survivor, and a hate crime victim). To date it’s the writing project I’m the most proud of.
This play about growth after trauma may actually be dethroned by my current project though, in which I am pitting science against faith.
I’ve come to believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. Everything is so perfectly and precisely interdependent that nothing can truly be mutually exclusive because it is all completely interdependent.
This feels a bit full circle. I learned about Mattie’s foundation through a video I made of Mattie’s poem, “I AM.” And ironically, in a film documentary film also titled, “I AM,” it is Desmond Tutu who says, “We are because we belong to each other.” And my own vision of peace celebrates interconnections.
How did you learn about Mattie?
I had just had a rather minor outpatient procedure and the pain medication wore off around 2:07 a.m. I had fallen asleep to the TV and I woke up to Mattie on Oprah talking about “playing after every storm.”
The next day I discovered someone I hadn’t seen in years had emailed Mattie’s “I AM”poem to me, (which was first published in his Celebrate Through Heartsongs book, and reprinted in his Just Peace book). I followed that whisper to the book store and bought Jeni’s book, “Messenger” (Mattie’s biography), as well as “Heartsongs” by Mattie.
The timing was all so perfect. I felt an insatiable desire to share Mattie’s “I AM” poem in a web video. I was very lucky I listened to those whispers in the wind as a number of really great experiences have come from discovering Mattie and his work.
How have you been involved with Mattie’s Foundation?
I learned about Mattie’s Foundation when his mother, Jeni, reached out to me after I posted a comment on Mattie’s Facebook page about the video I was working on honoring his poem. The version of the poem that I was sent by a friend contained a number of errors which Jeni helped me correct. She gave me permission to use the poem as well as permission to include images of Mattie which she sent.
Since then, Jeni has shared the video with others during many of her presentations on Mattie’s vision of peace for ourselves and for our world, which makes me proud to have listened to the whisper. The video has also been featured as the homepage video on Mattie’s Foundation website.
When I was asking artists to donate artwork and photos for the video, I told them this project was about how we are fundamentally all the same. Most of our entertainment, media coverage, sporting events, and even social events are consumed with our differences. We human beings seem to have a fascination with friction. However, my Haitian New York cabbie friend, Saeed, always reminds me, “Our love for each other is greater than our differences.” Mattie reminds me of this, too.
Every single contributor to the “I AM” video has expressed gratitude for being part of the video. Nobody got paid any money, but it is clear that everyone feels they got something from Mattie’s poem. Even people who are in photos in the video have written me to say “thank you.”
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
I’m honored and grateful to be recognized as a Peace Maker by Mattie’s Foundation. I can’t really take too much credit. Seems the path chose me. Thank you for this honor!
Thank you, Akin,
for being a Peace Maker.