AHIF Hosts 15th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its Fifteenth Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America, keeping the discussion of the promotion and preservation of Hellenism at the forefront of the community. This year’s conference was held in Elizabeth, N.J., at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel, Nov. 18-19, 2016.
Featuring nearly 20 prominent speakers from across the country, conference presentations analyzed key issues including the future of Greek American organizations, the political process and lobbying, religious and ethnic identity, promoting Hellenic values through business, Greek education, and perspectives from young Greek Americans. Speakers also identified how Hellenism could be promoted in the future through these various channels.
AHIF held a dinner on the eve of the conference, November 18. There, AHI President Nick Larigakis officially opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from Conference Chairman Dr. Zenon Christodoulou and greetings from AHI Foundation President Dr. Spiro Spireas. John Metaxas, CBS New York news anchor and reporter, served as Master of Ceremonies. Pavlos Yeroulanos, former Minister for Culture and Tourism and board member, Benaki Museum delivered the Keynote Address, “The Role of Greece in Promoting Hellenism Abroad.” The Invocation and Benediction were given by His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey.
President of the Metropolis of New Jersey Philoptochos Anastasia Michals received AHI’s Hellenic Heritage and Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism in America.
In acceptance remarks, Michals spoke of the importance of philanthropy. “I'm a great believer in the power of philanthropy, both as a healer and reminder that all things are possible through God’s Love,” she said. “The most important work that I've ever done is through the Church, and in particular, as a member of Philoptochos. Helping those in need is the greatest privilege and the single best way that anyone can express his or her understanding of Christ’s life and His message.”
The conference covered the following topics (below links lead to relevant sections in Conference Summary):
The AHI Foundation hosted the conference, in cooperation with the Hellenic Federation of New Jersey. The Hellenic Link of New Jersey and the New York Chapter of the American Hellenic Institute co-sponsored it.
“We sincerely appreciate the support from our many generous sponsors,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “Without their support, the Conference on Hellenism would not be the successful event that it was.”
Additional sponsors included: Gus Andy, Cape May, NJ; James and Theodore Pedas, Washington, D.C.; SigmaPharm and Drs. Spiro and Emily Spireas; AHEPA Delphi Chapter 25, Manhattan, N.Y.; AHI Board Member Leon Andris, Washington, D.C.; Lou Katsos, New York; James Lagos, Springfield, Ohio; and the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund, Inc., in honor of Honoree Anastasia Michals.
Each year the conference is held in a different U.S. city to spread the seeds of ideas generated at the conference, and to obtain feedback from the local Greek American community on various challenges facing Hellenism in America. Conference speakers identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today and offered suggestions for the future.
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The conference began with welcome remarks from AHI President Nick Larigakis and Conference Chairman Dr. Zenon Christodoulou. Dr. Christodoulou, who is also the founding chair of the New Jersey State Hellenic American Heritage Commission, introduced the conference’s Opening Keynote Speaker Professor Dan Georgakas, director of Greek American Studies, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY. Professor Georgakas presented on the theme, “The Now and Future of Greek America” in which he emphasized that by 2050, the vast majority of Greek Americans would be of mixed ethnic heritage. In that sense, they will have to make a conscious choice to identify as being Greek. Georgakas outlined actions that the community can take to make that choice more likely. He spoke of youth trips to Greece sponsored by the community, secular cultural centers, religious activism, and creative use of mass media. He also noted major changes in American society that could aid in the teaching of the Greek language. In the spirit of the Socratic injunction to “Know thyself,” Georgakas underscored the need to support Greek American Studies and to be fully aware of our history in the United States. He further emphasized that our identity must be Greek and American, rather than narrowly ethnocentric.
Panel 1: Greek Education in America
Session speakers and moderator included:
Dr. Nick Manolakos presented on the topic, “Establishing Greek Charter Schools: How to begin and why they are important.” He drew from the experiences of the Odyssey Charter School of Delaware and its importance for the promotion and preservation of Hellenism through education. Odyssey Charter School was established in 2006 and has made a name for itself as Delaware’s “first mathematics content focused, Greek language elementary education charter school.” Dr. Manolakos added, “The conference helps me reflect on what it means to be a person of Greek descent in contemporary America and the many challenges AHI has in promoting our values and worldview to the next generation of Greeks in the USA. Attending AHI harkens a pride and sense of uniqueness associated with our roots that makes me want to get more involved to dampen the effects of ongoing assimilation of our ethnic uniqueness into the mainstream mass of American culture.”
Dr. Gonda Van Steen. explored the topic, “Modern Greek Studies at the University Level: Challenges and Opportunities.” She talked briefly about the history and role of the MGSA. The association functions as a clearinghouse and forum for all academics and professionals interested in promoting the scholarly study of Greece, Cyprus, Greek America, and the Greek language. Since its inception in 1968, the MGSA has gathered neo-Hellenists at biennial symposia and has also been engaged in the publication of scholarly articles via its journal, the Journal of Modern Greek Studies. The association further reaches a wide audience via its website, listserv, job postings, and other information useful to colleagues, especially to graduate students and recent Ph.Ds., who face a bleak job market in the Humanities. Van Steen also presented the Center for Greek Studies at the University of Florida, where she is housed, as a vibrant hub that brings Modern and Ancient Greek together in teaching, research, and service.
Dr. Efthymia Christie discussed “Church Greek School Programs in America: Are we Meeting the Needs?” She concluded there are examples of successful organizations and schools across the United States that incorporate Greek language in the curriculum; however, after-school Greek language programs are, for the most part, struggling.
There are charter schools that have been established in Delaware, New York, Florida to mention only a few states where the study of Greek is the foreign language taught as an integral part of the curriculum in addition to scattered private day schools across the country.
Dr. Christie noted that church Greek school programs face some major challenges, including teacher preparation, curriculums that are not meeting the needs of the non-Greek speaking children who attend these classes, and the overscheduled child. Valiant efforts are being made by concerned and dedicated parish councils, priests and parents to maintain Greek language as the foundation of their children’s cultural heritage. As an example, after school programs have initiated pre-school classes to introduce the Greek language as early as possible which, according to the research in second language acquisition, is the most opportune time for children to learn any language. Additionally, based on discussions with several directors in the tri-state area, the most prevalent needs identified were: 1) teacher training and 2) resources to model the technology that children are exposed to in curriculum implementation during their daily experiences in the regular school environment. There is no doubt the passion of maintaining the Greek language, culture and history continues to live in church parishes along with dedicated priests and parishioners who support after-school programs often at a financial deficit. In summary, the future success and maintenance of the Greek language after-school programs will depend on the development of a more holistic, comprehensive and unified approach on a national level to meet the interests and needs of today’s children. This will also require a more focused and targeted approach by the parishes in sharing information, resources, curriculums and strategies that have been implemented successfully in recruiting and training teachers who will be able to engage children in the classroom.
Panel II: The Greek American Community and the Political Process
Session speakers and moderator included:
Nick Larigakis addressed the topic of “Greek American Issues: What Are They and Why Are They Important to the U.S.?” He contended that a majority of the Greek American community “Don’t know [the issues] that well or know them only superficially.” Larigakis stressed the importance of speaking to legislators as Americans and educating them as to why it is in the best interest of the United States to support the Greek American community’s issues. He cited Greece’s strategic importance to the United States, including its role in NATO and the facilitation of utilizing NSA Souda Bay. For the latter, Larigakis shared his first-hand experience visiting NSA Souda Bay and the interactions he has had with U.S. military officials who stressed the importance of the base. He also referenced Lexington Institute white paper, “Souda Bay: NATO’s Military Gem in the Eastern Mediterranean,” on which AHI collaborated and released to a Capitol Hill audience. Moreover, Larigakis highlighted the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s (OPIC) policy shift to conduct business in Greece, which was backed by AHI, and serves to help Greece with its economic crisis. Larigakis also discussed recent developments on Cyprus settlements talks based upon his visits to Cyprus this year and Cyprus’ importance to United States interests, which was clearly evident when Vice President Joe Biden bolstered U.S.-Cyprus relationship by calling it, “a genuine, strategic partnership” during his historic May 2014 visit to the island. Furthermore, Larigakis discussed the geopolitical significance of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral relationship and the democratic stability it provides in an otherwise instable region. Finally, he touched on how effective local activism can be to achieving results on Capitol Hill and why it is crucial for all organizations to “be on the same page” with their policy statements, a role that AHI provides through its annual Policy Statements to which many Greek American organization sign on.
Paul Glastris presented on the topic “Greek American in Public Institutions and How to Get our Message Heard and Considered.” Glastris discussed how Greek Americans in every profession and walk of life have opportunities to, on occasion, significantly advance Hellenic causes within their networks and communities, if they seize them. But he also pointed out, with specific examples, that the opportunities are even greater for those of us in public life--in politics, government, journalism and so forth. “Therefore, we should reach out to such well-placed Greek Americans (and they are everywhere if you look) and encourage younger Greek Americans to seek careers in public life,” he said.
Luncheon Keynote Speaker
President Larigakis introduced the conference luncheon’s principal speaker, Dr. Van Coufoudakis, former dean, professor emeritus, Indiana University-Purdue University College of Arts and Science. He spoke on the theme “Keeping Hellenism Alive in 21st Century America: Challenges, Opportunities, and Threats.”
After examination of the challenges and opportunities facing the Greek American community in the 21st century, Van Coufoudakis concluded: “We spoke of our community's changing nature and the challenges and opportunities confronting our community. The challenges are real, but so are the opportunities for maintaining Hellenism alive in 21st century America, a country that now finds strength in its diversity. The old dilemma of being Greek and Orthodox in America does not exist any longer. If we believe in who we are, and in the strength of our heritage, tradition and faith, we can keep Hellenism alive in the U.S. The challenges and opportunities are ours. No one else can protect or promote Hellenism for us!”
Panel III: Current Perspective on Current Challenges
Session speakers and moderator included:
“The Importance of Promoting Greek Culture: The Role of the Greek American Community” was the topic presented by Ambassador Loucas Tsilas. He offered, “Hellenic culture is a set of values and a way of living and governing that has acquired a universal and diachronic importance and has been embedded in the world patrimony. Promoting Hellenic Heritage, especially in America, means using a common language in order to advance the highest and loftiest principles and ideals of the human kind.” He continued, “It is only natural, especially during the present crisis in Greece, that the Greek American community be active in disseminating Hellenic values in America, a country whose political, intellectual and cultural life is largely based on them order to advance the highest and loftiest principles and ideals of the human kind.” Greeks abroad are called to stand by the tenets of their Hellenic heritage and shoulder even more responsibility in safeguarding and preserving it during difficult periods of crisis for Greece, he emphasized.
Dr. Zenon Christodoulou presented on the topic, “Are Greek American Organizations Meeting the Needs of the Community?” In his role as conference chairman, Dr. Christodoulou praised AHI, stating the Institute has shown why it is one of Hellenism’s most important and respected voices by bringing together Philhellenes from across the world. This year’s conference attendees were able to gain valuable insight into the current state of Hellenic affairs along with methods for its advancement. Through the conference’s vibrant discussions, participants were encouraged to collaborate on the development of best practices for the future of Hellenism and devise ways to implement them in their local communities. The Future of Hellenism annual conference is a unique gem that represents the very best of our global community.
Jewish American Blogger and Activist Jason Langsner presented on the topic, “The Jewish American Community: How Do We Compare?” He stated, “The Jewish and Hellenic-American communities share many characteristics and values. We are both immigrant people with strong connections to our historic and ancient homelands. Our identities today have both been shaped with not just who we are, but also where we have come from. We've shared similar challenges with intermarriage and some lose of our identities through assimilation. And we have much to learn from one another as we look to the next generation with the future of Hellenism and Judaism in America.”
Panel IV: The Changing Nature of the Greek American Community
Session speakers and moderator included:
Rev. Stefanos Alexopoulos presented on the topic, “The Challenges Facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America and their Impact on the Future of Greek America.” Fr. Stefanos began by a review of statistics both from the Archdiocese and the Pew Institute that highlight that the Greek Orthodox Church today is facing and will continue to face a drastically changing congregation challenged by attrition, less and less ethnically Greek, more and more Americanized and multicultural. He noted that two extreme reactions to this reality would be either (1) a relativism in faith; or (2) religious and ethnic fundamentalism. He noted that the priority of the Church should be the preaching of the Gospel by addressing the question “Why is it important to be an Orthodox Christian in 21st century America?” Another question to be addressed is “Is Greek heritage important, and if so, how does it apply to non-Greek Orthodox?” and in this respect, he suggested that the Church should move towards fostering philhellenism, particularly among its non-Greek members.
An examination of how second, third, and third-plus generations of Greek Americans view their Greek ethnicity was provided by Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D. Dr. Bartolomei maintains the changing face of Hellenism continues to transform our Greek communities. “We have entered a new phase,” she said. “To preserve our heritage, it is critical that we change the ways in which we interact with our youth, especially our young adults. Keeping them connected through engaging Greek university programs such as Study Abroad in Greece, Greek Language & Culture Studies, Greek Cooking, and Service learning is the key.” She added that the community needs more programs such as those offered by AHI that reach out to our young adults and present them with a more contemporary view of their ethnicity.
Panos Stavrianidis, Ph.D. presented on the topic, “The Cultural Revolution of Greek America’s Millennials and their Impact on the Preservation of Hellenism.” During his presentation, Dr. Stavrianidis, through quantitative and qualitative data, demonstrated the impact of Greek America’s Millennials on the preservation of Hellenism. He also indicated the role of the Greek Orthodox Church as the major pillar of Greek America and its ability/inability to remain as such in the future. Results demonstrate that the decline of the attendance and membership within the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. has had an immediate impact in the continuation and retention of basic characteristics like the Greek language, ethnic identity, customs and culture. Dr. Stavrianidis recommended we need first accept the existence of this phenomenon and embrace it as a symptom of evolution. The Orthodox Church, being the major center of influence, should reconsider its previous methods and renew them in order to accommodate the plethora of intermarriages which have become interracial as well. Then we need to decide whether to allow this phenomenon to just follow its natural path or take action and try to prevent it. Either way, we need to know Millennials and their foundation for better connection and build a meaningful relationship with them through their ways of communication. It is also highly recommended that more extensive research on the Greek American Millennials to be conducted for a more conclusive plan of action.
Panel V: Looking to the Next Generation of Greek Americans
Session speakers and moderator included:
To open the panel, Art Dimopoulos presented on the National Hellenic Society’s Heritage Greece Program. He discussed the program and described it as an unforgettable journey to Greece tailored to connect students with their Greek identity and roots through a cultural immersion experience shared with a peer group of Greek students from NHS’ partner and host institution—the American College of Greece. Also, Dimopoulos shared his observations that the demographic of the Greek America we know today has dramatically changed as 3rd and 4th generations assimilate into the mainstream. “Rather than view this as a threat—it is an opportunity to inspire an entire new generation with the treasures of Hellenic heritage, culture and traditions,” he said. “NHS’ customer-centric approach focuses on strategies and programs that make a difference in changing the course of complacency.” The importance, relevance and meaning of Hellenism is something to be shared with our own community and celebrated by all Americans, he added.
Nick Larigakis spoke about the American Hellenic Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus and other various study abroad programs offered by Greek American organizations. He noted the difference of the AHI Foundation trip, which is that college-age students travel to both Greece and Cyprus with a specific focus on foreign policy. The goal of this two-week program is to help facilitate a better understanding of these issues with future Greek American leaders. “We provide a living classroom,” he said describing the program’s ability to provide its intimate group of 10 students with real-world, first-hand experiences such as visiting occupied Cyprus to witness Turkish troops and desecrated churches. The small number of students also allows for proper dialogue and discussion with policymakers and diplomats to explain their foreign policy practices. Larigakis also discussed success stories of Policy Trip alumni, including Dina Baroudos, who helped to foster collaboration with the Lexington Institute on Souda Bay’s importance via the white paper, “Souda Bay: NATO’s Military Gem in the Eastern Mediterranean” and its release on Capitol Hill; and George Papadopoulos, who became a foreign policy/energy policy adviser for President-elect Donald Trump. He also noted that AHI’s recent hire, Peter Milios, is another alum.
Panel B: Next Generation Perspectives
Yiannis Floropoulos shared his thoughts on the looking to the next generation of Greek Americans: “The values, norms and beliefs that construct the identity of the 'Millennial Generation' are not geographically fixed or specific like their predecessors; more importantly the Millennial identity usually does not gravitate around centralized authorities or institutions like organized religion, state bureaucracy, or membership organizations like AHEPA or AHI. Instead decentralized, distributed, and peer-based systems based are emerging as the source for the Millennial social-constructing content...As Hellenes we should not fear or be skeptical of the future of Hellenism with the ‘Millennial Generation'. For thousands of years Hellenism was not geographically situated or revised by any centralized institution- it rested on meritocratic values, norms and beliefs that gave birth to the Renaissance, the Age of Reason and some of the greatest achievement of humanity. We should welcome the Millennial identity. Why? Because that is what we have been as Hellenes for millennia.”
Angeline Apostolou shared her perspective on Hellenism with the audience: “It is clear that for all of us, Hellenism drives and inspires us, and influences how we interact with the world. Personally, my Cypriot heritage has played an influential role in my worldview, and my decision to study international relations and in some ways, sets me apart from other young Greek Americans. Yet what I see as a unifying factor in my generation is this conscious decision to be Greek. In today’s society, it is very easy to shed cultural identities. As a young person, many of my peers are third generation or only have one parent who is Greek, but there is an inherent love for Hellenism and all that it embodies that keeps us connected to this rich tradition. For this reason, I am optimistic about the future of Hellenism in America. The Greek community is certainly changing, but I believe that this newfound diversity will ultimately propel us forward. We are no longer bound to Hellenism because we are immigrants or first generation Greeks. Rather we choose to identify as Hellenes because we believe in the rich culture and values that have survived for centuries.”.
Following the series of sessions, AHI President Nick Larigakis presented an overview of the day’s proceedings and moderated a discussion presented under the theme, “Where Do We Go From Here?” that included Dr. Van Coufoudakis, Professor Dan Georgakas, director, Greek American Studies, Center for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, Queens College-CUNY; and Conference Chairman Aris Melissaratos. An in-depth Q&A session ensued and the conference’s many sponsors were acknowledged for their generous support.
The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.