Bahá'ís play key role behind the scenes in UNICEF concert at the UN Children's Summit

9 May 2002

UNITED NATIONS — Although Hugh Locke and Jack Lenz both grew up two years apart in the tiny farming town of Eston on the Canadian prairie in Saskatchewan, the two men never met until they became members of the Bahá'í Faith as young adults.

But since meeting, they have embarked on a number of collaborations, the most recent of which was the production of a major concert for world leaders at the United Nations during the United Nations Special Session on Children in May.

Mr. Locke served as executive producer for the event, which featured guest appearances from former South African President Nelson Mandela, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, while Mr. Lenz took on the role as musical director.

And although the concert, which sought to feature mainly the voices and musical performances of children and young people, was sponsored entirely by UNICEF, both men feel strongly that their practice of the Bahá'í Faith and its principles of global interdependence and human unity gave them great inspiration.

"The theme of the concert was to have the voices of children giving a message to the leaders of the world -- and that message was to urge them to put children first in all of their undertakings," said Mr. Locke, whose company, Locke Associates Inc., specializes in organizing international events and conferences.

"And once Jack and I started to shape the concert, we wanted to have a message that was universal in nature and hopeful for the future," said Mr. Locke, noting that they chose a number of songs written by Bahá'ís for the event -- songs that feature themes of hope, oneness and human solidarity. "And there was a resonance in that with the tone and intention of what UNICEF wanted to do.

Held 9 May 2002 on the north lawn of the UN grounds in New York under a specially erected tent before an audience of some nearly 1,000 world leaders, UN officials and children's advocates, the concert featured the 300-voice UNICEF World Chorus -- assembled by Mr. Lenz from youth choirs in metropolitan New York -- and the 160-strong National Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

The concert, titled "Change the World with Children," also featured a series of solo performances by some young or youthful singers who have already won fame for their talent, such as Billy Gilman, a 13-year-old country and western phenomenon from the USA, to Josefine Garline, an 11-year-old pop singer from Sweden. Also performing were Raffi, the internationally acclaimed children's singer and songwriter, and Angelique Kidjo, one of the world's best-known African singers.

A number of international celebrities, composed mostly of UNICEF and UN goodwill ambassadors, also appeared on stage, with each presenting one of the "Say Yes for Children" Campaign pledges, which were a focal point of the concert. Among those present were actors Michael Douglas, Roger Moore, and Cicely Tyson; singer Harry Belafonte; and chess master Anatoly Karpov.

The Say Yes for Children Campaign was a focal point of the event. Worldwide, more than 94 million signatures have been collected as pledges to the campaign, which offers ten simple points -- such as "Put Children First", "Educate Every Child", and "Protect the Earth for Children" -- designed to help build a world where "all children should be free to grow in health, peace and dignity."

Appearing on stage with the adult goodwill ambassadors were members of the Children's Theater Company (CTC), a New York-based children's performance workshop that is operated as a Bahá'í-inspired project. Each member of the CTC read out one of the pledges and then introduced his or her new "friend" -- one of the famous goodwill ambassadors, who then explained the importance of that pledge.

Many of the songs performed at the concert celebrated human diversity and interdependence. Among them were "Color Me Human," which was written and performed by Eric Dozier, a Bahá'í from Los Angeles, and "The Greatest Moments," written by Mr. Lenz himself, who is a internationally-known Toronto-based song writer, musician and producer.

"For Bahá'ís, the idea of unity in diversity is a key theme," said Mr. Lenz, who is now producing a video of the concert. "And as we worked with UNICEF officials to put the concert together, there was a lot of discussion about diversity and the importance of ensuring that the entire human race was reflected in this gathering. So I know that I, and the other Bahá'ís who worked on this, felt this concert was a significant event."