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Difference Maker

People making a difference: Jeremy Gilley

This actor and filmmaker envisions that world peace begins with just one day of peace.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 29, 2009

Jeremy Gilley, founder of the nonprofit Peace One Day, talks with students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass. He works to have every Sept. 21 acknowledged as a day of worldwide cease-fire.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff



Jeremy Gilley doesn't have time for skeptics. He prefers the company of hopeful humanitarians, sincere celebrities, and most of all, children, who recharge him with their enthusiasm for his quest.

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That quest is both profound and modest: to have the whole world observe – even if just once a year – a day of peace, a day when the violence stops and bridges of trust are built so that, eventually, lasting peace can be reached.

"Why peace for only one day?" That's the inevitable question Mr. Gilley encounters as he travels to schools promoting "Peace Day" and a related online curriculum. This time it's from a ninth-grader at Boston's MATCH Charter Public School.

"You have to start somewhere," he tells the assembly of more than 90 freshmen. "If we can get one day right, then we can get two. The wonderful thing about getting one right is that the next day it doesn't all crumble.... If you say 'sorry' to somebody on that day, then that 'sorry' lasts forever."

Fed up with a constant stream of violence around the world and in the media, Gilley, a British actor-turned-filmmaker, decided to use his camera to try to make history, as well as record it. His idea was to ask heads of state around the world to agree to a date on the calendar to mark a "peace day" with cease-fires and humanitarian acts.

Along the way, Gilley recorded his efforts, figuring lessons would emerge from either success or failure. "I thought it was going to take a year to film; now it's 10 years on," he says with a chuckle.

He finished the film, "The Day After Peace," in 2008, and along the way his London-based nonprofit group Peace One Day veered close to bankruptcy more times than he'd care to recall. But reaching milestones kept him going.

In 2001, for instance, the United Nations adopted Gilley's resolution to designate Sept. 21 as an "International Day of Peace." For 20 years, the UN had recognized such a day symbolically when opening its fall session. But now the day would be on a fixed date, accompanied by a call for a global cease-fire.

"There was a bit of skepticism about the man because he was young, ambitious, idealistic," says Ahmad Fawzi, UN director of news and media. "But those are the characteristics you need for success.... His passion was contagious."

The day set to announce the new UN resolution was Sept. 11, 2001. The group that gathered in New York to celebrate that day instead had to evacuate amid the chaos of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

But that just made Gilley even more determined to ensure the day would be honored with action, not just lip service. As corporate sponsors signed on over the years and word of Peace Day spread, millions of people in more than 100 countries began marking it with everything from school and church celebrations to handing over weapons and sharing food.