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Speakers talk to students about ties that bind us – nationally and globally


September 20, 2011

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KANSAS CITY, Mo - - If the U.S. Constitution forms the framework which ties all Americans together in leading its citizens to accomplish common means, then the United Nations does the same for the world at large.

  From Left: Jay Sjerven, President of the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City; S. Marie Harris, Provost & Vice-President for Academic Affairs for Avila University; Abdul Bakar, board of directors member of the United Nations Association of Greater KC; Andrea Olitsky, professor and Director of Mock Trial

That was, in essence, the message of two speakers from the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City who spoke to a group of students and faculty at the Constitution Day Lecture the morning of Sept. 19 in the Whitfield conference room.

“Institutions that are directionally forged can stand the test of time,” said lead-off speaker Jay Sjerven, president of the UNA of Greater Kansas City and a senior editor at Sosland Publishing. “There are 310 million individuals in (the U.S.). Nearly all faiths practiced on earth are practiced here. There are people from all economic backgrounds – rich, poor, or middling.

“The tie that binds us all is the Constitution. It turns citizens to accomplish common means. It’s the only legal means to affect change.”

Sjerven went on to tell the audience of about 100 the history of the United Nations, which was conceptualized by then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt as a model for how nations would co-exist following World War II, then realized by successor, President Harry Truman, who convened the first conference of the UN Security Council – which included Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, China and the U.S. - in 1945 in San Francisco.

Since then, Sjerven said the UN has played a key role in ensuring there has been no WWIII. That nearly wasn’t the case when the U.S. and Soviets narrowly avoided conflict during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

“If there had been no UN, the U.S. and Soviet leaders would have known less about each other and their intentions,” Sjerven said. “The UN played a key role in keeping communications open between the countries.”

However, Sjerven also cautioned, “The UN will only be as effective as we decide to make it.”

Sjerven also took time to commend the UN’s humanitarian functions, namely UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the organization’s inspections of nuclear facilities around the world and its deployment of troops worldwide to maintain peace.

Those were also functions of the UN that the second speaker, Abdul Bakar, a UNA of Greater KC board member, also wanted to talk about. Bakar is a former Somali refugee, now a U.S. citizen. He emotionally spoke about world poverty and lack of education, two main factors behind violence, he said. He spoke to the audience about the Millennium Development Goals and its eight pillars, which include eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, promotion of universal primary education, gender equality and combat disease.

Bakar recited his journey to the U.S. in 1999 (he first settled in the Atlanta area) and Kansas City in 2000. He said the vast mix of cultures in this country made it more difficult to know what it was about to be an American. In the end, he said, it all came back to the Constitution.

“It was hard for me to assimilate into a culture when I didn’t understand what culture Americans possessed,” he said. “I couldn’t get it until the day I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. I realized then it was the Constitution that allowed you your individualism.

“Yes, we’re not perfect, but we’re better. And, we have to take on leading the world to being better. My only hope now is that we give the millions of poor people around the world a reason to hope.”



Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.