Messages of peace will be inscribed on catalpa leaves. Submitted photo

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COVID-19 crowded out most of the activities planned for the 2020 Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action (YKNA) in Evanston. But between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 4, the public will have a chance to offer messages of hope and peace for a country suffering from violence and despair.

In accordance with an old ritual practiced in countries around the globe, participants will launch peace offerings of leaves and flowers from the Dammrich Rowing Center, 3220 Oakton St., on the North Shore Channel. The ceremony is “meant to connect [people] with nature” and its healing powers, says Indira Johnson, a public artist and peace activist. Having witnessed the ritual in Bali as well as in her native India, she floated an offering of her own in the Chicago River a dozen years ago. Recently she shared the experience with her granddaughter, who posted images of the traditional rite on her very 21st-century Instagram account.

Leaves for the Evanston project were available for pickup at several locations around town between Sept. 21 and 28. Some 250 leaves were given out, Ms. Johnson says, with an invitation to inscribe on each a wish for peace. Ms. Johnson says she originally planned to use hosta leaves, with their striking variety of color and form. But they proved too difficult to write on, so she chose the large, flat leaves of the catalpa tree instead.

Those unable to submit a physical offering were encouraged to send messages of peace on Instagram or by email with the promise that they would be inscribed on leaves for the launch.

The idea for YKNA originated with  Ms. Johnson herself, but she says an Advisory Council comprised of local artists and other community members “worked really hard to make it happen.” Their goal was to use art as a catalyst to foster dialog about peace and non-violence.

The year was off to a lively start with a “huge crowd” attending the kickoff on Jan. 24, before the pandemic hit, Johnson says. A number of organizations partnered with YKNA – Evanston Made, Family Focus, Evanston Public Library, Kids Create Change, Open Studio Project and the Evanston Art Center.

Though the virus dashed plans for most YKNA activities, word of this weekend’s outdoor Peace Offering event has reached a nationwide audience. It drew the attention of the New York-based Peace Studio, who included it in their 100 Offerings of Peace Project.

Among the leaves returned to the Evanston Art Center was one with a quote from Jimi Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” On Sunday, that leaf will be joined with others, perhaps decorated with flowers and carrying offerings of peace and hope along the canal and beyond. 

And, Ms. Johnson says she hopes some of the ideas for the 2020 YKNA will continue in 2021.