By Madina Touré
At a peace conference seeking to encourage active listening among leaders of the African diaspora, Ivorian activist Drissa Koné called on his people and others to overcome religious and ethnic differences to gain a better understanding of one another.
Drissa Koné, a member of the New York Ivorian Union who will be receiving his Doctorate of Ministry with a concentration in peace and justice at the Unification Theological Seminary, organized a peace conference held at the school’s New York City Extension Center at 4 W. 43rd St. in Midtown Manhattan based on his doctoral thesis titled “African Diaspora Leadership Conference: Active Listening, A Practical Approach to Effectively Manage Cross-Cultural Conflict.” His case study is the Ivorian diaspora leaders in New York.
In September 2002, Koné found himself in the midst of the Ivorian conflict—which lasted from 1999 to 2012—and was arrested and mistreated by a policeman because his name happened to be the same as one of the rebels.
“I said to myself, ‘If I have an opportunity, I will actually become a killer,’ but it didn’t happen because I had a spiritual experience. I could not hide that, even though I consider myself as a Muslim,” said Koné, who is also an adjunct professor at UTS. “The teaching that I received from Christ while in detention was that you have to walk the path of forgiveness. That’s the only way for you to really embrace others, even those who hurt you.”
The unification movement, he said, calls on people from different backgrounds to live for and make sacrifices for one another, which led him to UTS. Although he is Muslim, his wife, with whom he has two daughters, is Buddhist. They practice meditation at home and he even brings her to the mosque sometimes.
Koné interviewed 21 leaders in the Ivorian community, six of whom were female and 15 of whom were male. The majority of participants were Christian, the second largest religious group was Islam, one individual was Buddhist, and two individuals practiced an African traditional religion.
The participants also represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds and political groups.
Koné’s recommendations include forming a committee to meet and listen to all the Ivorian community leaders, which would help improve the level of trust, giving them an active role in the New York Ivorian Union. Koné also suggested meeting regularly and including every leader in the decision-making process.
He said speaking with the Ivorian leaders was about understanding why there was resistance and advising people to understand other people’s points of view instead of always forcing their own perspectives onto others.
“I came across the term ‘active listening’ when I was studying and for me, I understood that as a practical way to really live for the sake of somebody else and specifically when we are hurting,” he said, “because sometimes we feel that we have to say what we feel and we want other people to listen to us but in that research, I realized I have to listen to other people and understand instead of coming to them and teaching them what is right.”
Dr. Hugh Spurgin, UTS’ president, praised Koné for encouraging people to work together and overcome conflict and differences. “We all want peace. We’re tired of the conflict,” Spurgin said. “We have to go beyond our own personal situations and reach out to others, and Kone has been a peacemaker.”
Christophe Kouakou, the consul general of the Ivory Coast in New York, called on Ivorian leaders of the African diaspora to support Koné and his quest for peace and unification. “I would like to say I’m proud that you (Koné) perfectly understood the value of forgiveness, that is the tradition, unity and foundation of social life,” Kouakou said.
Twenty-one individuals who have contributed to the Ivorian community in New York City received an Ambassador of Peace certificate. Finally, the leaders signed a peace charter.
The event also included an interfaith prayer from Isaac Zate, pastor of the Rehoboth Church in the Bronx and Konaté Souleymane, an imam from the Masjid Al-Aqsa Mosque in Harlem. Amichia Edward, a pastor from the Power of God Manifestation in Queens, gave the benediction. Raul Joseph sang the American national anthem and Estelle Bouazi Yessoh sang the Ivorian national anthem.