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NEW YORK – As in past years, youth delegates accompanied peace activist Rev. Patrick McCollum to the United Nations International World Peace Day Sept. 21. During the ramp up to the event the preceding weekend, McCollum introduced the Pagan Youth Delegates, both of whom had been invited on behalf of McCollum’s Foundation for World Peace. This year’s delegates included Olivia Phillips, age 15 from Pennsylvania, and Sasha Reed, age 23 from Washington.Although not a Pagan herself, Phillips is involved with the Chester County Women and Girls Fund, also known as the Girls Advisory Board. The organizaiton has raised and is dispersing $25,000 of grant money within her community. Her mother has been an active member of the McCollum Foundation for many years.
“Patrick heard that I was doing that so he thought that I could be the youth delegate for this year at the U.N.” Phillips said.
Phillips joined the delegation to introduce violinist Sasha Reed before she played McCollum’s peace violin. The violin is, “constructed of diverse woods and materials collected from the sites of world conflicts and resolutions, and impregnated with materials and fragments collected from sacred sites and events connected to the peace process from around the world, the World Peace Violin was fully born on the Winter Solstice of 2012,” according to his website.
Reed has had a number of previous interactions with McCollum. He visited her school at Mills College while she was forming a Pagan-oriented club on campus. On one of those occasions, he brought the violin.
“I started playing violin when I was eight and switched to viola when I was 11, so he let me play it and it was a really overwhelming experience. I’ve cried every time I’ve played the Peace Violin, so let’s hope I can hold it together on stage. It’s a really powerful instrument. I’m not professional musician by any means but I have a lot of passion for music. I like to call myself an advanced hobbyist,” Reed said.
Reed has graduated from the university and now works as a medical scribe in an emergency room.
“Patrick reached out to me,” about the UN opportunity, she said, “I’ve visited his house before and I’ve played viola at his birthday party. I’m not sure what he was thinking when he asked me to do this but I know I’ve had very strong emotional reactions with the Peace Violin and I love all of his goals, working towards peace and everything that he does with the foundation. I said I can’t miss an opportunity like this.”
One of the main themes of the conference is passing the torch along to a new generation of peace activists, empowering youth to stand up and have a voice in their communities and in the world.
“People give presentations on what they’re doing, what their goals are, and these people who are hopefully going to be the next generation of peace activists and leaders in peace are coming together and sharing their ideas and making these connections at a young age so that as they grow older they can really start making moves and start putting their change into the world,” Reed said.
Reed sees the future of peace thriving through education. She said that she sees education as a way to undermine hatred and prejudices. As a person employed in a medical field, she also sees the role that health and wellness play in the ability of a person to change.
“It’s hard to learn and it’s hard to be willing to focus and change your ideas when you feel crappy. I think that’s where peace is happening now. It happens in the classroom, it happens in hospital rooms, and it happens with patient, loving people who are willing to take time out of their day to truly help others,” she said.
Reed knows from experience the effects of compromised health, both physical and emotional, can have on a body.
“I used to be anorexic, I used to have really bad anxiety and depression and I think part of that came from not helping people but also seeing all of this tragedy and sadness around me in the world and not knowing how to deal with it,” she said.
Now she practices yoga regularly, jogs, hikes and finds solace in practicing meditation and Wicca. “Taking care of my spiritual self and finding ways to make my physical self feel good are absolutely necessary for me,” she said.
She added that she embraces, “revolutionary health care, radical self care and self love,” which includes being open-minded enough to realize when she needs medication, although right now she doesn’t.
Reed sees a need for people to increase their education about mental health, saying, “there’s this stigma that when you’re on mental health medication that you’re broken and you’re barely hanging on and you’re addicted, (but) it really brings you to a place where you can actually start working on your problems.”When it comes to being open about her religion, Reed says she’s not nervous about being a Pagan delegate at the United Nations event. At work, she prefers not to talk about it, however.
“Meeting new people I don’t care if they know that I’m Pagan, it’s just these kind of friendships that I’ve made at work that I don’t know, I think just because of their own prejudices and the things that they’ve learned about Pagans. It all comes back full circle to these old ideas that aren’t necessarily correct but that have been really firmly taught.”
When asked what her suggestions to the next generation of Pagans would be and how she would help them find their footing, she said, “The absolute best things for me were getting books and talking to other people so that you don’t feel like you’re weird.”
She said that although it can be fun to be weird, feeling like an outcast and like you’re the all alone can be very isolating. She suggests doing research online and trying to find groups, especially local organizations where you can meet in person.
She finds that, “being able to actually talk to other people and learn more can deepen your own practice through doing this.”
Reed says that she feels spirituality is an intrinsic part of being human that can even impact our health.
“One of the other things that drew me back to religion were these studies that found that people who are going back to church and people who are Christian lived longer. I don’t think it’s because god is blessing them with long life for being Christian, for me it was more about, these people are still going out of their homes and they’re still going out into their communities. They’re feeling really fulfilled about their lives and they’re speaking with other people and they’re growing themselves emotionally.”
Reed is applying to medical school and hopes to begin by the fall semester 2017. Beyond that she says, “A pipedream I’ve had my whole life is to work with Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health or one of these big organizations that helps in a physical way. Helping people’s physical bodies, so that people can go out and achieve.”
And as to her fears about becoming emotional and tearing up on stage while playing the Peace Violin, did that happen?
“It did not!!! I was able to hold it together, but I also did a lot of ritual and mental preparation so I think was ready for how intense the instrument was this time,” she said.