Unity, Peace, and a Hope for the Future

Tonight the world watched as the Opening Ceremony for the Rio Olympic Games called for world to come together in unity. The ceremony celebrated the diverse culture of Brazil through music and dance, culture and people. It was a call to come together in competition, but also to change the world.

I saw a country make a stand for individual athletes, for respect, appreciation, and a celebration for cultures other than their own, and for the natural world in which we all inhabit.

The message of unity was echoed though out the entire night as the athletes entered and mingled together as equals, all part of the family of competition. It was a celebration of peace, that no matter our differences, our past, or the nation of our birth, we are all equals. We are all of the same human family.

We heard stories of athletes and teams as they walked into the stadium for the parade of nations, celebrating each nations accomplishments. Over 200 nations marched in and mingled together. But the story that stirred thousands of hearts is the story of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Ten athletes who are competing under the Olympic Flag as refugees. Athletes who will be competing in the context of the worldwide refugee crisis. Five refugees from South Sudan, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one from Ethiopia, and two more from Syria, including the 17 year old swimmer Yusra Mardini.

This is the same girl who became a hero a year ago when the inflatable boat she was traveling in from Turkey to Greece lost power to its engine in the middle of the Algerian Sea.  She, her sister, and two others jumped into the waters and pulled and pushed the boat for three hours through the night to safety. Now she is swimming as an Olympic athlete.

We heard the words of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee

Respect yourselves, respect each other and the values which make the Games unique. We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground. Certain people claim to be superior to others. In the spirit of Olympic solidarity and with the greatest respect we welcome the refugee Olympic team.

Dear refugee athletes. You are sending a message of hope to the millions of refugees around the globe. You had to flee your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different. In this Olympic world we do not just tolerate diversity, we welcome you as enrichment to our unity and diversity.

There are millions around the world who contribute in different ways to make our world a better place through sport.

Each of the 10,000 athletes competing in the Rio Olympic games was gifted a seed that will be planted in the Olympic Forest, as a reminder that we are all responsible for the world we live in.

The challenge has been issued, and as these athletes come together to compete, we are reminded that if we do not come together to change the world, we will tear ourselves apart.

Our future is through peace. And the spirit of the Olympic values. And acceptance. And love.

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