By Kurt Wheelock
On May 30 UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak is convening a Youth Dialogue, featuring an Tongan Special Olympian and an up and coming singer who was abandoned as a baby in a shoe box in Iraq. Midday May 30, Lajcak will speak in the UN’s Youth Media Zone, with Leonardo Parraga who founded BogotArt Foundation and Ella Okko of the youth initiative from Finland called “Lennons Peace Ambassador.”
Emmanuel Kelly, the boy abandoned in a shoe box in Baghdad, Iraq, disabled or differently abled by the impact of chemical weapons in war, will speak on will speak on the opening panel along with Lajcak, UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and Tongan Olympian Pita Taufatofua. Kelly’s is a journey that exemplifies the topic of the panel, “Education, Employment and Prevention of Radicalization leading to Violent Extremism.”
Emmanuel Kelly’s first move was from the shoe box he was abandoned in to a Mother Theresa orphanage in Baghdad, after a nun found him and took him in. In 2000, noted Australian humanitarian Moria Kelly bought Emmanuel and a boy who had become in essence his brother, Ahmed, back to Australia for medical care. After eight surgeries, Emmanuel emerged with the dream of being the first “differently abled” pop superstar. And through an appearance on the X Factor in Australia, it began to happen.
Now Emmanuel Kelly has performed with Chris Martin of Coldplay; his rendition of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” drew praise from Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. Now he will be at the UN, not for the first time, on the opening panel of General Assembly Presient Lajcak’s Youth Dialogues event, at a time when the use of chemical weapons in Syria, next door to Iraq, is in the news.
Kelly has said, “When I was in Iraq, I would sing, and I would use, I guess, the gift that was given to me as a tool to escape from the war and escape from the bombs and the gunshots and the executions that were happening around, escape from the fear.”
This is a lesson in how to use music and creativity to soar about the scourge of war, which the UN has not managed to spare humanity from. Kelly continues, “I came to Australia, when I was about 10 or 11, my mother, who is incredible, took me to an event one day, and I performed in front of maybe 1,000 people. When I finished singing. everyone stood up and they clapped and they cheered and they were all really kind of engaging with what I had done and inspired. Some were laughing, some were smiling, some were crying — it was all over the place. And in that moment, I realized this is my gift. This is what I need to do for the rest of my life.”
Emmanuel Kelly’s story also exemplifies the hope that refugees can bring to the countries that take them in, in this case Australia and now the United States, where he has performed in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Also speaking in the UN’s Economic and Social Council chamber on the morning of May 30, beyond Pita Taufatofua who represented Tonga as a snowboarder and flag-bearer at last winter’s Special Olympics, are Shamoy Hajare, Founder of Jamaica School for Social Entrepreneurship, Safaath Ahmed Zahir, Co-founder Women and Democracy and Mohamed Sidibay, Peace activist with the Global Partnership for Education.
Lajcak’s note for the event states that the UN “General Assembly will convene a Youth Dialogue on 30 May 2018, with the aim to build a conversation between young people and all stakeholders. This is not a regular UN event. The most important part of dialogue is listening. As such, the event was shaped by and will be run by young people and we will ensure that youth get the mic. The meeting will be an occasion for participants from government, civil society and youth representatives, to discuss education, employment and the prevention of radicalization leading to violent extremism.” Who better to speak than, from Iraq, Emmanuel Kelly?