More than 130 guests gathered at Willow Street Pump Station as UHD hosted the 7th annual Citizenship Month Kick-Off Luncheon on Monday. Citizenship Month co-chairs Claudia Ortega-Hogue and UHD President Bill Flores opened the event by thanking attendees, especially Houston’s First Lady Kathy Hubbard, who has supported the initiative since its inception.
Flores noted that Sept. 21 also is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, stating that peace and civic engagement go hand-in-hand.
Flores quoted Pope Francis’ recent address to the people of Cuba, in which he said, “If the purpose of your life is not serving others, your life has no purpose.”
“That’s exactly what Citizenship Month stands for,” said Flores. “It’s about recognizing that we are all united as one city and one nation. As a University, we recognize the importance of providing students with the tools and the awareness required to contribute to making the world a better place.”
UHD professor Mark Cervenka and Karine Parker-Lemoyne, executive director of the Texan French Alliance for the Arts, introduced the Citizenship Month artistic committee’s “Butterfly Project” with a video presentation from College of Public Service Interim Dean Leigh Van Horn related to the poetry component generated by the literary committee. During the initiative, Houstonians of all ages will pen poems and motivational messages on origami butterflies that will be strewn from the ceilings of local schools, libraries and government buildings.
“The butterfly is a universal symbol of transformation,” said Parker-Lemoyne. “It encourages us to invite the change that comes and to make our way in faith. Most importantly, we hope our butterflies will encourage youth to be the positive change they want to see in the world.”
Teta Banks, Houston United Nations Association (UNA) president and former General Consul of Liberia, introduced the executive members of UHD’s UNA chapter, one of the first collegiate chapters in the nation. The student organization, which has members who represent nations all over the world, participates in Model U.N. forums and service-based learning projects that bring global attention to social issues and solutions.
Pam Johnson, founder of the Heights School of Yoga, introduced His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda, an ordained Vedic Monk of the Giri monastic order, who shared a message of peace.
“Cultural transmission is of immense value in this city, and this kind of exchange always begins with a peace mission,” he said. “I am pleased to see the University of Houston-Downtown participating in such an exchange, as students are often the ideal ambassadors to initiate this work. Teaching and learning institutions play a key role in educating young people as emissaries of peace.”
The spiritual leader shared a few traditional Sanskrit peace chants with the audience, encouraging them to seek peace in all interactions.
The afternoon closed with vocal performances from UHD adjunct professor Jason Oby, who sang several songs, including “Thankful,” as made famous by Josh Groban.