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AHIF Hosts Successful 5th Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America in San Francisco
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
November 15, 2006—No. 83 (202) 785-8430

AHIF Hosts Successful 5th Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America in San Francisco

Washington, DC—On October 28, 2006 the American Hellenic Institute Foundation in cooperation with the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation held its 5th Annual Conference on “The Future of Hellenism in America” at The Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California. The conference featured prominent speakers from the fields of education, law and the private sector, who identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today.

The co-sponsors of this event included the ELIOS Society, the Foundation for Hellenic Studies, the Hellenic American National Council, the Hellenic Federation of Northern California and the American Hellenic Council of California.

The weekend conference began with a Friday night dinner for the speakers and other invited guests hosted by George and Judy Marcus and Dr. Kenny and Angie Frangadakis at the critically acclaimed Kokkari Restaurant in San Francisco.

Opening the conference on Saturday, October 28, 2006 was the Conference Chairman George Marcus, Chairman of Marcus & Millichap. The keynote speaker was Professor Dan Georgakas, Director of the Greek American Studies Project at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College-CUNY.

The moderator for the morning session panel A was Nick Larigakis, AHI Executive Director. The panel A speakers included: James Dimitriou, Ph.D., Past Supreme President of the Order of AHEPA and Emmanuel E. Velivasakis, President of the Pan Cretan Association.

The moderator for the morning session panel B was The Honorable Ted Laliotis, President of the Hellenic Federation of Northern California. The panel B speakers included: Professor Martha Klironomos, Professor & Director at the Center for Modern Greek Studies at San Francisco State University, Eva Prionas, Ph.D., Chair of the Special Language Program at Stanford University and Professor George KafkoulisChairman, Co-Founder & President of the Archimedean Academy in Miami, Florida.

The luncheon chairman was Dr. Kenny Frangadakis and the luncheon speaker was Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, Ambassador of Greece to the United States.

Following lunch, the moderator for the afternoon session panel C was Fanis Economidis, Vice President of Metropolis Council, Metropolis of San Francisco. The panel C speakers included: Reverend Stephen Kyriacou, Annunciation Cathedral in San Francisco, Vicki Liviakis,Anchor of KRON TV News, Marylin Rouvelas, author and Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive Director of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), Inc.

The moderator for the afternoon session panel D was Professor Van Coufoudakis, Dean Emeritus, School of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN. The panel D speakers included: Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, President & CEO of KT Communities,Nick Karambelas, Esq. Partner at Sfikas & Karambelas, LLP, George Marcus, Chairman of Marcus and Millichap and Gene Rossides,President of the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

Following the panels, a round table discussion took place with the audience. Professor Van Coufoudakis was the moderator. The participants included AHI Board Member Kostas Alexakis, James Dimitriou, Ph.D., Professor Martha Klironomos, and Gene Rossides.

Mr. George Marcus began the conference by welcoming the participants and giving an introduction to the conference discussion on the Future of Hellenism in America. Mr. Marcus stated, “We believed in the early era of what I would call the melting pot. And the melting pot really just disintegrates the heritage that all Europeans had and other people from around the world. So many of us are third and forth generation descendents of intermarried couples, in some cases, not all cases. And so it is very probable that we could be one generation away from disappearing as an ethnic group in the United States. And there are two thoughts about that. There is one that says we are a melting pot and we will sort of melt away. The other one is that America is a stew of people who can stick together for the benefit of America and for the benefit of Greek Americans, for the benefit of our relationships with one another, and the benefit of Greece. We have something you can’t buy, you can’t join—we were born into a special club. Our heritage is something that was granted to us by God and our parents. The importance of this club I think can be exemplified by understand how important maintaining our relationships has been and will be. And the real question is, can we create institutions today that will maintain a reason for our children and there children to maintain roots within our society?”

The Keynote Speaker, Professor Dan Georgakas spoke on “The Now and Future of Greek America.” He said, “I think what we have to have is a model that I call a transnational Greekness or bi-national Greekness, bi-cultural Greekness in which Hellenism is not bound by a geographical state. It becomes a culture which effects you in whatever country you are in and obviously Greece will be the center of that…It will be a two way street, not a one way street. They don’t feed us Greek and we don’t feed them modernism, but we go back and forth…I think we have to revive the language. We really have to understand modern Greek culture, modern Greek history as well…We have to be connected to that, we have to understand our own culture and then we have to embrace these new technologies and move forward. And I think if we do that, that maybe fifty years from now people will gather in a room like this and they will say, gee we’ve got some problems today, but thank goodness for those people fifty years ago, they passed us the torch.”

The morning session A discussion was on “The Future of Greek American Organizations.” On this topic, James Dimitriou stated, “We need to expand the ‘E’ in AHEPA. It’s time to expand our educational efforts…We’re in a crisis in America in our public schools where Western civilization has been diminished and almost extinguished. In most of our schools and most states you study Greece for a mere two week unit in the 6th grade, and if you’re lucky you get a week and a half to two weeks in the 9th and 10th grades. That’s all. Multiculturalism has many advantages, but one of them is not the study of the classics and Western civilization. We need to expand these programs, we need to promote programs. We need to do a much better job for our children in public schools. We need to teach Hellenic traditions in America…We need to create a national week of Greek letters…and more than anything else we need to provide new youth programs, programs that take students to Greece.”

Mr. Emmanuel E. Velivasakis said, “Why is it our young adults are not part of our organization?...Why can’t we have a cultural center that we can teach our children to learn how to dance? Why can’t we have a school to teach them the language? Why can’t we have something that is here? Why can’t we have a program in Crete where we send our kids in the summer where they can truly intermingle with the local population? Why can’t we have those programs that help us. We are still of the mentality that we have to help them [Greeks in Greece]? It’s not us and them, it is us that are in danger…We need to think about ourselves. We are in danger. These are the initiatives that we have to start thinking about.”

The second panel of the morning session was on “Greek Studies Programs in America.”

Professor Martha Klironomos gave a presentation on “The Importance of Increasing Modern Greek Studies Programs and Expanding the Curriculum.” She stated, “When we say Hellenism, we mean the academic disciplines and knowledges that have contributed to our understanding of Greek peoples’ cultures and paideia from antiquity to modern times…The obvious place of course where the ideal of a democratic paideia can be explored are courses in political science and political theory or a course that we offer at San Francisco State that looks at Ancient and Modern Athens and models of democracy that are typical to those societies comparing them to republican and liberal models here in America. Another application is also looking at the Greek-American community and its history for it offers many narratives of discrimination, of the benefits of social activism, and of the benefits of citizenship.”

Eva Prionas, Ph.D. spoke on “Greek Language Programs: Is There a Need for Change?” She said, “Demand for languages and offerings are often based on the national needs, strategic needs of the United States, on research and career needs of the students and on programmatic need, which requires mastering a language…we have to offer to students incentives; we have to motivate them…They must receive a credential in the language…We see higher enrollments when we offer Greek courses that cut across disciplines…It is not important to offer the typical beginning, intermediate level class anymore, but we have to make it a language course that is content based…so we develop specific themes with current events like economics, politics, film, etc.”

Professor George Kafkoulis presented his remarks on “Establishing Greek Charter Schools: How do You Begin and Why They are Important to the Future of the Community.” He stated, “I wanted to make a conservatory of Mathematics and the Greek language…We must be as proud as we are for Aeschylus and Sophocles as we must be for Archimedes and Euclid and Apollonius…We decided to build a school that is going to be attractive as an institution of learning to the mainstream of American society. So what we are suggesting is this—to bring Greek curricula to enhance standard American curricula and to give the children a reason to study Greek…The students are learning language through content and the content area that this school decided to use is mathematics.”

The luncheon speaker, Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, gave a captivating presentation to the standing room crowd. In part he stated, “In this country there are three fundamental elements for success—impact, outreach and what is very often said before the elections—politics is local. If we want to influence one or the other party, if we want to increase our impact in the one or the other administrations, if we want to have a greater impact on the Senate and House…we must start from the grass roots, local activity…you must try with persuasion, with arguments and with reason.”

Also at the luncheon, Conference Chairman George Marcus was presented the AHI Hellenic Heritage Award by Gene Rossides and Nick Larigakis for his “tireless dedication and support in the promotion of Hellenism.”

Following the luncheon, the afternoon session panel C began with remarks from Reverend Stephen Kyriacou on “Issues Facing the Church in America”. He said, “Hellenism is part and parcel of the Orthodox in general and of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in particular—its ethos, its character, its theology, and its history are all telling of this legacy…It has been fostered these twenty centuries by the Church and the Church as a major Greek-American institution has enormous resources to contribute in order to partner, if you will, to teach in response to the great commission, and not only at the university level, about which we here much, but also at the level where most people and especially the young are impacted, at the parish level in the schools and schools such as the ones you have been describing. Let me conclude by saying that our biggest hurdle for the twenty-first century, as I see it, in a nutshell, is to be Greek Orthodox in a culture of choice.”

Ms. Vicki Liviakis spoke on “The Importance of Engaging the American Media.” She said, “After some twenty years as a member of the American press, I have had good moments when I’ve felt I’ve made a difference and less stellar moments, but I have always chased the truth and I have tried to be fair…We provide a public service that’s not always pleasant and you can’t always be right, but you should be held accountable.”

Ms. Marylin Rouvelas gave her presentation on “Greek Customs and Traditions: Are We Keeping them Alive?” She said, “We must always remember Hellenism and Greek Orthodoxy exist in a third context—the culture of contemporary America which prizes choice. Most Greek-Americans think of themselves as Americans first and then choose their own depth of identification and involvement. Some Americans immerse themselves solely in the Church focusing on Orthodoxy. Some may be members of the Orthodox Church and choose to devote themselves to Hellenic cultural activities. But most enjoy participating in both. They also care deeply about being successful Americans who present themselves to the rest of society as model citizens in keeping with the unchanging ideals of the golden age of classical Greece and the tenets of Christianity. These diverse individual approaches may ultimately provide the most effective overall preservation strategies.”

Ambassador Loucas Tsilas then spoke on “The Importance of Promoting Greek Culture: The Role of the Greek American Community.”He said, “Our special duty is not just to feel the heavy responsibility of being the descendents of the creators of a great civilization but to feel also…that this is a relay race—that we have a torch in our hands. Our civilization, any civilization, especially the Hellenic civilization is a torch that shines and brightens our life for centuries and for centuries to come and this is the special duty that we have, a special pleasure that we have to hold high this torch, to feel proud because our forefathers created it, to feel humbled because that doesn’t belong anymore to us. It belongs to everybody and especially it belongs to this great nation, the United States and to feel as Americans of Greek descent—that we have a special duty to hold this torch high and give it to somebody else—to the next generation.”

Panel D began with Kyriakos Taskopoulos speaking on “How do we Engage our Youth to be Active Participants of Hellenism?” He said, “Our younger generations need to be increasingly engaged in higher education and the political life of the United States. We need to lead our young people not only into higher academic posts at colleges and universities, we need to push and encourage them to become involved in colleges and universities at the administration level as deans, as provosts, as college presidents, trustees, etc., that is, we need to push our younger generation even more, though we have many notable successes in this sector, to be leaders and dominant players in higher education.”

George Marcus gave his remarks on “The Importance of Engaging Greek American Professionals to be Pro Active in the Community.” He said, “If we don’t engage the professional, we have no community…We need to give more value to the current meaning of being an American Hellene…The current generation needs to connect the dots…We have to connect with the professionals because they’re all going to be professionals.”

Following, Nick Karambelas gave his presentation on “Perspectives and Participation in the U.S. Political Process.” He said, “There are two ways that we participate in the political process. We either seek office or we influence those who are seeking office and one of the things that I think is missing in our community is a good institutional, educational resource that can train our young people to do both.”

And lastly Gene Rossides spoke on “The Role of the Greek American Community in Support for U.S. Relations with Greece and Cyprus and Why this is important to the Future of Hellenism in America.” He said, “Unless we become involved as a community in these issues, we risk losing our identity…To become part of the mainstream of American foreign policy development process, we must build a public policy base in each of the four hundred and thirty five congressional districts in this country and with the one hundred senators in the fifty states. If we don’t we will be considered a weak, ineffectual, ethnic community of little consequence and the result will be a weakened Hellenism in America.”

Concluding the conference, a round table discussion took place with the audience. Panel participants offered their opening remarks.

Martha Klironomos said, “We have a dire need of empirical data. We have not adequately collected photographs, oral histories, testimonies...There is a vast pool of resources that many of us simply didn’t realize was out there and it’s virtually untapped...Only you can provide such data—the stories, the experiences, the photographs, the memorabilia that your families hold for us are essential to provide to researchers to investigate and look through and eventually help recover this history.”

James Dimitriou, Ph.D. stated, “Why don’t we create a Hellenic heritage week and let’s commit our organizations together...We have in our schools today 14 million students in North America who are getting three and a half four weeks total, sixth grade and tenth grade, of anything to do with Hellenic heritage...Let’s recapture Western Civilization. Let’s bring it back into our curriculum. Let’s bring it back to the American public school.”

Kostas Alexakis said, “What are we doing ourselves? What does each one of us do to promote Hellenism? And isn’t Hellenism all about language? Without the language, I think Hellenism is going to become another intellectual exercise...We all know that Hellenism has played a huge role in Western Democracy. However, we find ourselves, we of Greek descent, having children that don’t speak the language, having wives that don’t speak the language, having husbands who don’t speak the language—we don’t have the tools and we don’t have the perseverance to make those close to us become aware of the basics of Greekness...I want to challenge you to ask yourselves about the practical aspects.”

Gene Rossides stated, “The role of the Church is not political...That does not mean that the church leadership or priests abrogate their first amendment rights to be active politically, to speak out politically as individuals and it does not mean that the Church does not have a very important political role. That role is not as a leader, either on the national level or the church level. But that role means that every priest should be pressing his congregation, the lay leadership, to be active in politics...The Church can play a great role in politics by pushing the lay community to be active.”

The conference organizer Nick Larigakis stated, “We are extremely pleased with this conference. It is one of the finest we have had in the five years that we been hosting this themed conference. San Francisco proved to be a very good choice this year. The participation was very good and the audience came well prepared and very eager to engage the speakers in constructive dialogue. We look forward to continuing to take this conference to cities around the U.S. I want to also thank all our sponsors and benefactors who made this possible, and especially Mr. and Mrs. George Marcus and the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. Without their support, this would not have been possible.”

Benefactors who helped make the AHIF’s conference possible include: Dr. Kenny and Angie Frangadakis, San Francisco, California, Aris Anagnos, Los Angeles, California, Nicholas J. Bouras, Summit, New Jersey, Commissioner Demetri and Mika Boutris and Family, New York, New York, Elias Gyftopoulos, Lincoln, Massachusetts, Nicholas G. Karambelas, Washington, DC, James and Nike Lagos, Springfield, Ohio, Meta Media-M magazine, Toronto, Canada, Jim Pedas, Washington, DC, Ted Pedas, Washington, DC, Gene Rossides, Washington, DC, Manny and Marilyn Rouvelas, Washington, DC, Ted G. Spyropoulos, Chicago, Illinois, Angelo and Sofia Tsakopoulos and family, Sacramento, California, Emmanuel E. Velivasakis, New York, New York and Stylianos S. Zavvos, New York, New York.

Digital photographs from the 5th Annual AHIF’s conference on The Future of Hellenism in America are available at the following link:http://ahiworld.org/hellenism_conf/press_release_photos/

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For additional information, please contact Georgia Economou at (202) 785-8430 or georgia@ahiworld.org. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.