AHIF Hosts 14th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its Fourteenth 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 Baltimore, Md., at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, Nov. 20-21, 2015.
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 20. There, AHI President Nick Larigakis officially opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from Conference Chairman Aris Melissaratos and greetings from Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos, ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Andreas Akaras served as Master of Ceremonies. U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) provided the evening’s keynote address. He spoke to the audience about the importance of Hellenism in the Public Service, a concept that he likes to advance. The Congressman shared his belief that Hellenism and its values provide Greek Americans with a way to give back to the community and engage with the broader society and the importance of continuing to bring greater attention to those Greek Americans who are striving to better the communities in which they live and work. The congressman also spoke highly of AHI’s role in the community and how its mission serves to further Hellenism and its principles in the United States.
Longtime Baltimore community supporters and members Nitsa Morekas and the Korologos brothers, Tom, John, and Lou, received AHI’s Hellenic Heritage and Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism in America.
In acceptance remarks, Nitsa and the Korologos brothers both spoke about the importance of the work AHI does for Hellenism and its promotion in the United States and how humbled they were to receive these awards. Nitsa remarked about how many people she’d like to thank in the Baltimore community and how much they have meant to her. Tom, on behalf of his brothers, talked about how these issues our community faces, in addition to the advancement of Hellenism, are very important, relevant and often overlooked. He added how grateful he is that AHI champions these issues and works to strengthen the vital relationship between Greece and the United States. He added how we all should support AHI.
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 National Hellenic Society (NHS) and SigmaPharm Laboratories LLC sponsored it.
“We sincerely appreciate the generous sponsorship of SigmaPharm Laboratories, which is under the leadership of Dr. Spiro Spireas,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “Without its support, the Conference on Hellenism would not be the successful event that it was.”
Additional sponsors included: Gus Andy, Cape May, NJ; Tom, John and Lou Korologos, Baltimore, Md.; James and Theodore Pedas, Washington, D.C.; Drs. Spiro and Amalia Spireas, New Hope, Pa.; the Ted and Erika Spyropoulos Foundation; Costas Galanis, Mexico City, Mexico; James Lagos, Springfield, Ohio; Aris Melissaratos, Baltimore; Kostas Alexakis, Severina Park, Md.; Leon Andris, Washington, D.C.; and the Baltimore-Piraeus Sister City Committee.
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 Aris Melissaratos. Melissaratos 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. A detailed exposition of these days will be presented in an essay in the next issue of the policy journal of the American Hellenic Institute.
Panel 1: Greek Education in America
Session speakers and moderator included:
In her presentation “A New Paradigm in Greek Education,” Eleni Alexopoulou discussed how she, along with the HEC staff, wrote a new curriculum which is interactive and engaging after they reviewed all educational programs in the Saint Katherine community. The goal is to implement the best teaching practices and classroom management procedures in the Greek Language School, Paideia Preschool and Adult Language Classes. This strategic plan is carried out in a thoughtful manner and implemented step-by-step teaching Greek as second, foreign and heritage language, Alexopoulou said. High quality education is offered by highly skilled professionals in a climate of trust and collaboration. Not only is the Greek language taught but so is cultural/heritage and religious instruction by developing projects such as the Kotinos project. Additionally, newly established assessment by the State of Virginia matches the students’ needs for high school credits. Finally, the new teaching methodology builds a strong, positive relationship among students, teachers, parents and the community.
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. 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.
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. Larigakis also discussed 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.
Nick Karambelas presented on the topic of “How the Eurozone Crisis Affects the Greek American Disapora.” He offered that Greek Americans have a long history of assisting Greece in times of crisis - sometimes with their lives. For example, Greek Americans formed military units in the United States which fought for Greece in the Balkan Wars of 1912. He added that during the Second World War and the Greek civil war, Greek Americans organized efforts whichwere instrumental in alleviating the suffering of the Greek people. Fortunately, the present crisis is not the result of war, he said. “If the crisis were the result of war, the role of Greek Americans would be obvious,” Karambelas said. “Among other measures, we would gather and dispatch supplies and, as Americans, advocate in political circles for policies which asserted the interests of the United States with respect to Greece. Nevertheless, it is the worst crisis, short of war, which Greece has faced since 1952. For this reason, we must be more creative and innovative in the types of measures we undertake.” Karambelas stated that several Greek American organizations are alleviating suffering by gathering items which are necessary for segments of the Greek population to survive from day to day. These efforts are vital and must be supported by the Greek American community, he said.
“The broader issue is the types of measures which Greek Americans can take to positively affect the crisis in the longer term,” Karambelas said. “The Greek American community as a whole can have a greater effect on assisting Greece to create the conditions which can attract direct investment. An effective means of doing this is for the Greek American community to put its resources behind identifying programs and initiatives that are available through the U.S. government which foster direct investment in other countries.”
In his presentation, Ambassador Patrick Theros discussed the topic, “How Effective Are We at Getting Our Message Heard and Considered?” His spoke on the premise that Greece has developed the habit of saving western civilization on repeated occasions but it seems only we know about it anymore. Dr. Theros cited as an example, the most recent case of OXI Day, which is commemorated on October 28, and joins in historical importance the victories over Persia at Marathon and Salamis and the defeat of the first caliphate at the gates of Constantinople in the early 8th century A.D. as decisive events that saved European civilization. “We no longer own the story,” he said. “Europe forgot about the Byzantines and now only we remember October 28. We spend too much time telling ourselves about our great history but I do not see non-Greeks at those events. We talk about preserving our community and culture. Our children will feel pride when they hear from their non-Greek friends about our greatness. If we want influence others must respect and admire us. The time has come to stop bragging to ourselves only.”
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” 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.”
Aris Melissaratos examined the topic of “The Role and Responsibility of Greek American Professionals to Get Involved.” He stated, “In order to become a role model for the continued emphasis on Hellenism and the associated Greek culture, a professional need to first establish themselves as a personal and professional role model. Once this leadership position is established young people will flock to the individual to follow, duplicate, achieve and exceed the standard that was set. So it is with establishing a legitimate leadership position that one can expect the most impact.”
AJC Washington Regional Office Director Alan Ronkin presented on the topic, “The Jewish American Community: How Do We Compare?” He discussed the structure of the Jewish community worldwide and its challenges, particularly in the United States. While it faces growing anti-Semitism around the world, the community is also faced with a growing assimilation rate, high levels of intermarriage and a general drift among younger people away from communitarian and toward more individual focused life. He underscored the community’s efforts in outreach including visits to Israel for 18-26 year olds, increasing the role of women and other tools to address the concerns. He also praised the ongoing relations between the Hellenic and Jewish communities and pledged to work to increase cooperation in years ahead.
Panel IV: The Changing Nature of the Greek American Community
Session speakers and moderator included:
Father Kosmas Karavelas presented on the topic, “The Challenges Facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America and their Impact on the Future of Greek America.” He concluded that the future of the Church in America would be to invest in parents in teaching Catechism at home to their children. “The importance of Catechism at home strengthens and promotes the Holy Traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church,” he said. “With that in mind the Church will have a future in the millenniums to come.”
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 shared data from a study taken from 2008 to 2010 of 181 second and third generation Greek Americans. The findings show that 1) family is important to these generations and 2) that they are proud of their ethnicity. The data also demonstrated there is a big decline in use of Greek language between second and third generation Greek Americans as well as a decline the numbers who attend Greek school. However, third generation Greek Americans want to travel and did express a desire to study Greek. Dr. Bartolomei believes it is “time for us to wake up” and recommended that the community bolsters university study-abroad programs and Modern Greek Studies programs. 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.” In an overview, he said Millennials have become the nation's largest generation, surpassing the Baby Boomers. He said: “They are unique, confident, self-expressive, upbeat and open to change. They are also the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history. They have great influence on the American society in many ways. Known as the alpha influencers, they are incredibly social online, more politically and socially liberal and more willing to incorporate all the differences that exist within people - from race, religion, language, geography, nationality, sexual orientation and interests. Nonetheless, Millennials are markedly less religious than previous generations.”
During this presentation, Dr. Stavrianidis, through quantitative and qualitative data, demonstrated the impact of Greek American's Millennials on the preservation of Hellenism. He recommended that we need first accept the existence of this phenomenon and embrace it as a symptom of evolution. “Then we need to make a decision whether to allow it to just follow its natural path or take action and try to prevent it,” he said. “Either way, we need to know Millennials and their foundation for 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/DEREE. “The program is a gift from the National Hellenic Society to the selected candidates,” he explained. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore Greek heritage, culture and identity with a peer group of students from the U.S. and Greece. Students learn language skills within the context of modern Greece and travel to important archaeological locations. Visits to an island and related sites and activities will facilitate strong connections with students’ Greek roots and identity.” Results from studies and direct observations demonstrate that the connections forged exponentially increase the probability that the students will sustain their Greek identity and culture. A substantial majority of the Heritage Greece alumni have sustained their ties with one another and returned to Greece with their families to vacation, reconnect with relatives and share the experiences they had with their families. The NHS continues to play a role in the lives of the Heritage Greece alumni through mentorship and other programs for the Heritage Greece Alumni Network.
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. Meetings with ministers and deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and high-ranking military officials within Greece’s “Pentagon” equivalent were examples of those the students will experience. It is also important for the students to write about their experiences upon their return and share them with their peers in university publications. He cited two examples of participants one of who had her account published in a school newsletter and a second who helped organize a panel discussion at his university. In addition, three students sought out internships in congressional offices upon their return. “We are going to need these students as foot soldiers going forward and this program provides a small opportunity for them to become educated on the issues and become proactive in the community,” Larigakis concluded. He also commended all the study abroad programs that are offered.
Panel B: Next Generation Perspectives
Paulina Likos shared her passion for Hellenic culture and recounted her experience during the AHI Foundation Foreign Policy trip to Greece and Cyprus and how that experience has helped her with her policy studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
“What I believe needs to be emphasized in our communities is placing influence on our Hellenic culture in relation to the ways we make meaning. Cultural fluency is an integral capability that I have utilized to function more effectively in situations. My cultural expression involves recognizing the components that cultural communication influences our experiences, which identifies my roles that vary across cultures. Hellenism is built on the foundation of honor and integrity. I impose the ideals of Hellenism in my daily life and I believe because I follow these virtues, I am able to make the most out of my experiences,” Likos said.
She added: “The cultural adventure that I embarked on during my time in AHI Foreign Policy Trip to Cyprus and Greece included an educational journey where I could be engaged with political leaders that influence decision making and apply my knowledge outside of the classroom. Participating in meetings and briefings with Greek, Cypriot, and U.S. officials in Washington, Greece, and Cyprus was the foundation of my future international premier experiences that were to come. My past experiences that involve international exposure in the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece allowed me to translate complex policy issues in a comprehensible manner for those in the State Department in DC who are not well-versed in technical Greek domestic policy. As a Project Lead for the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, I am a part of a collaborative effort between the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the University of Pennsylvania where I work independently in a demanding think tank environment that requires excellent research, analysis, and project management skills. All of my forward-thinking initiatives encouraged me to continue my entrepreneurial spirit in my professional development and transcend my skills into the Greek community. Because the Hellenic community has had success in maintaining a strong identity and effective in exerting influence in other cultural societies, it is largely up to us being the young generation of Greek leaders to promote cross-cultural understanding of our Hellenic values, beliefs, and traditions.”
Elias Gerasoulis shared his thoughts on being a part of the Future of Hellenism Conference: “I had the privilege of being able to share my personal story as well as my thoughts on Hellenism. It was an even great honor to be among such tremendous company, with audience members and participants consisting of everyone from players in business, diplomacy, and politics to religious leaders and grassroots organizers passionate about everything Greek America. This conference and the dialogue that is created as result comes at an important time. Greek America is now at an inflection point, and many are wondering how we are to strengthen our community and craft an expanded identity as we rapidly progress into this new century. I was extremely pleased that many agreed that our efforts cannot be put solely on cultural or customary initiatives--which are vital projects that deeply enrich our community and that we should continue to invest in--but that there must be a multi-faceted approach where strong values and standards of excellence are emphasized as well and passed onto future generations.”
He added, “I think that, if anything, Greek American influence and impact can be the greatest it has ever been if we advance Hellenism as the universal idea that it is. It is now time for all of us to step up and work together to continue shape a great future.”
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 email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at https://www.ahiworld.org and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.
AHIF Hosts 14th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference