The Northern Lights Lantern Festival in North End Halifax is the newest recipient of the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth’s Peace Medallion.

“To me, it’s magical to see people from young children to the elderly and everyone in between come together. We strive to contribute to a healthy, peaceful community, bringing together people in a safe, fun enjoyable atmosphere where everyone is included to help shape citizens and create a better community,” says Shawn Nicholson, the Chair of the Northern Lights Lantern Festival Board of Directors. “Peace is not always present, however I believe that inventive initiatives like the Northern Lights Lantern Festival do help promote peace.

“We are so humbled to receive the YMCA Peace Medallion,” he says. “Our organization started in 2003 to fill a void that existed in North End Halifax. At the time, there was no single event that brought together people from all walks of life and all ages. A group made up of residents and organizations…and from that the Northern Lights Lantern Festival was born. Over 8,000 people of all ages come to Merv Sullivan Park to connect for an afternoon and evening of fun, creativity, entertainment and celebration. The festival seeks to promote community and diversity in its very truest sense.”

The YMCA Peace Medallion was presented on November 22 at the Lord Nelson Hotel during YMCA Peace Week. The medallion is designed to recognize individuals and groups who – without any special resources, status, wealth, or position – demonstrate a commitment to building peace in their communities or communities elsewhere in the world.

Beginning in 2003, the Northern Lights Lantern Festival is a volunteer, non-for-profit initiative that celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of the city’s North End. The day-long celebration features song and dance, a community BBQ, family events including face painting, pony rides, lantern making and fireworks. Due to ongoing business and government support, the event is free of charge, which helps break down economic barriers and celebrate cultural unity in an inclusive environment.

Brian Posavad, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth, explained that the Peace Medallion is bestowed on individuals or groups who epitomize his organization’s five elements of peace – participation, empathy, advocacy, community and empowerment.

At the YMCA, we believe peace is more than the absence of violence; peace is the presence of conditions like fairness, inclusion, empathy, security, and respect for the person,” he says. “Peace is also the continuing and ongoing work of building and rebuilding these conditions in our communities. We do our best to enhance these five elements of peace throughout our diverse programs including Kids in Kitchens, Grand Friends, outreach programs such as Forever Fit, the role the YMCA has played across Nova Scotia to settle Syrian refugees into new homes, and our leadership development program at Big Cove Camp, where our leaders of tomorrow are actively encouraged to participate in building stronger, healthier and peaceful communities.  We’re strengthening that commitment with the John W. Lindsay YMCA, which will be a true Centre of Community.”

Mr. Posavad congratulated the Northern Lights Lantern Festival on fostering peace and bringing light to the community.

“It brings to mind a quote from Marin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

“By working together and continuing to foster peace and joy, especially as we approach the holiday season, we will bring light and love to Halifax.”

Kathryn Khan, manager of the YMCA’s Child and Youth Settlement program, who has been involved in the awarding of the Peace Medallion for many years, reflected on the legacy of the award, adding the Northern Lights Lantern Festival signified the best of the inclusion the YMCA believes is imperative to promote healthier, peaceful communities.

“When people are included in their communities, they have the opportunity to be heard and contribute and shape the way that things work, and interact peacefully with each other. When people are excluded, feel misunderstood or frustrated and can’t find ways to change these conditions, a community’s peace is undermined. Inclusion and celebration are central to the Northern Light Lantern Festival.”

Lena Metlege Diab, the provincial Minister of Immigration, said she has personalized the elements of peace the YMCA promotes, and encouraged respectful dialogue to strengthen connection and understanding.

“I would love if people around the globe can get to a place where they can talk beyond war and conflict because there’s a lot of that around the world,” she says. “The more that we can promote the five elements you spoke about the more compassion and understanding we will have around the globe.”

Brian Jessop, Chair of the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth’s Board of Directors, noted that the Northern Lights Lantern Festival’s commitment to diversity and inclusion complements the YMCA’s emphasis on community connection, which strengthens communities’ ability to stand together and problem solve collaboratively when faced with challenges, which is central to the pursuit of peace.

“We’re very good at creating opportunities to build relationships through our programs, as well as an ability to put big differences in context of respectful relationships, which is defining qualify of the YMCA,” he said. “We’re connected across a very diverse YMCA network in Canada and around the world. We have a long history of standing together when it would be tempting to break apart.

“As a result of training our community muscles day after day, when we really need them when our differences seem big, we’re fit. We’re ready to face the challenge side by side. With all that’s going on in our world, it’s imperative for us to maintain that kind of resilience.”