Story and photos by Lybra Olbrantz
for The Beacon
The Friends of Peace Park Sheboygan hosted an International Day of Peace Celebration at Fountain Park Sept 21.
Led by Mary Koczan and her husband Frank Koczan, there was much to celebrate in the air that night.
The event started at 4 p.m. with the arrival of food trucks on 8th Street in front of Fountain Park. Jose’s, usually a staple on Michigan Ave, already had a line formed and remained this way for much of the night even after all the festivities were done and everyone had packed up and gone home, they were still taking orders.
Everyone started settling in around the bandshell, people filled the bench seats, park benches, a few sat in the grass on the lawn, performers sat around tables and stood to watch the night’s events take off. Around 5 p.m. Mary took the stage to welcome everyone and introduce Alderwoman Amanda Salazar for District 3, who represents the areas including Fountain Park & the Peace Park. She told us all the story of peace for her, especially in this new virtual age, as she shared it on a video work call earlier that day.
The first performers were Nafaya Drum & Dance Company, a local area African drum and dance group led by Maria & Salia Camara. The first thing everyone noticed were the beautiful outfits, big bold prints, then the drum & dance began with the same big, boldness. Maria twirled around the stage and whipped her hair back and forth while the drums went on. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman who stands in her own power and unleashes it for the world to see. Salia could be seen watching with the largest grin on his face, completely immersed in the rhythm of the night. One woman arose from the crowd and started into an ecstatic dance of her own and started screaming, “YES! OH MY GOD! AMAZING!”
Next to the mic was local author, Mike Leannah. He read his newest book “Most Days”, in which he says, “the world is moving, and I am too.” It gave peace to the anxiousness of the current times, in which everything seems to be moving and changing faster and faster, but reminds us that we are a part of that movement too.
Then Nkauj Hlaws Ci took the stage and everyone was in awe. The local Hmong girls dance group had the most immaculate traditional dance outfits, white skirts with giant fluorescent pink bows adorning the back. They were so poised and graceful swaying to the traditional music of their culture. They proudly danced around holding up letters that spelled out the word ‘Hmoob’ which means ‘Hmong’ and you got a sense of how important it is for them to not only celebrate, but share what their culture means to them with the world.
They would return for one more dance routine after local author Charm Der took the stage to read her book “My Happiness Counts”. A joyful children’s book to aid in counting and as her website says to raise awareness “to the possibility of finding happiness in everyday moments.”
After all of the dancing and book readings, there were only two instrumental performers left. First up was Bruce McFarlane on the bagpipes. Dressed in the traditional Scotsman kilt, you could sense a new exciting shift in the energy. We had experienced so many varieties of sound and dance up until this point that when he cued the pipes it felt like an awakening to the depths of your soul. The same woman who was dancing earlier was back at it again, screaming, “OH MY GOD! THAT’S GREAT!” At one moment she arose and shouted, “Play Amazing Grace!” and he responded, “A little later.” To which she replied, “You said that yesterday!” and everyone giggled at the rapport, but when he actually started playing Amazing Grace later you could sense that she was melting into the music. How one song can uplift the spirits and change a person’s day is beautiful in and of itself.
Then last up to the mic was Jay Burkard to play three different styles of wind instruments: cedar flute, bamboo flute and penny whistle. Adorned in a rainbow Nepali jacket, his calm energy felt like the perfect peaceful end to the evening. Something about the wind instruments felt like it was moving the energy along, like a gentle wind. It felt like I could imagine him in the Andes or Himalayas just playing these instruments at the side of a snow capped mountain with the clouds beneath him and that imagery alone made it feel like the night’s most peaceful performance.
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