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Chicago to be first U.S. host of Nobel Peace Laureates summit

Mikhail S. Gorbachev

Mikhail S. Gorbachev

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Updated: December 19, 2011 8:16AM

The NATO and G-8 Summits won’t mark Chicago’s only appearance on the world stage next spring.

Three weeks before President Barack Obama and world leaders arrive, Chicago will host the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the 12th annual event, but the first ever in North America.

Co-chaired by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the April 23-25 summit will be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago with the theme, “Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates — possibly including Obama, F.W. de Klerk, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama — are expected to engage Chicago students, civic leaders and residents in a three-day dialogue on global peace and human rights.

“Usually [when] you have these international conferences, they come, they obviously see the city and they leave. This is gonna leave a legacy to enrich our students,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a news conference at Jane Addams Hull House Museum, 800 S. Halsted.

Like the NATO and G-8, Emanuel acknowledged that he would be seeking corporate donations to help bankroll the Nobel Summit.

But, he said, “It’s an incredible opportunity for the children of Chicago — both in our university system as well as in our public school system. That doesn’t belong on a spread sheet and it will pay dividends for years on end.”

Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights named after her father, said the summit will open at a Chicago Public high school.

Nobel Peace laureates then will fan out to high schools across the city to share their powerful personal stores and speak with students about “the capacity of one person to make a difference and the obligation to try,” Kennedy said.

Host committee member Chris Kennedy, Kerry’s brother, noted that the effort to engage and empower young people comes at a time when scores of young people have joined the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Chicago movements.

“You can be critical of those folks for not knowing much about government or the economy or the future of the United States. But what’s clear about all of them is they think government is their enemy,” he said. “The truth is, lots of these Nobel Laureates have fought government, become part of government and have found a way be successful in changing the lives of millions of people. It’s a great example at this time in America to demonstrate to the very people who are most alienated how they can become part of the solution.”

Obama is a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. So is Illinois native Jane Addams, who became the first woman to win the prize in 1931 for championing the cause of isolated Chicago immigrants.

Summit organizers choose locations tied to the theme of that year. The 2010 summit on global nuclear disarmament was held in Hiroshima, where the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. Berlin hosted the 2009 Summit celebrating the end of the Cold War and the re-unification of East and West.

In a video played at Thursday’s news conference, Desmond Tutu gave a sample of what he would tell students, if he chooses to attend the Chicago conference.

“We all have a responsibility not to infringe on the rights of others and to support those whose rights are abused or denied,” he said.

“The power to create change starts with the individual. Change comes from millions of tiny acts that may seem collectively insignificant at the time, but make a difference when they are emulated by others. ... Some of the greatest changes have happened around the world because of the involvement of young people.”

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