Since 2008, Hibakusha Stories, an initiative of Youth Arts New York, a non-profit organization led by Dr. Kathleen Suillivan, has traveled throughout the boroughs of New York City to deliver engaging testimony and workshops on nuclear disarmament. Hibakusha, (the Japanese name given to survivors of the atomic bombings) along with distinguished scholars aim to promote peace through their stories. On May 2, Hibakusha Stories made a return visit to Cardinal Spellman High School in Bronx NY to address the eleventh grade class.
Kristen Iverson, a director at the University of Memphis, began the assembly by describing her childhood in the community of Rocky Flats, Colorado, as described in her novel, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Flats. In her story, Dr. Iversen describes the plutonium-producing government facility that remained mysterious to members of the community and even its own employees for many years before its dangers were finally exposed. As a result of plutonium-related pollution, the community’s air, soil, and drinking water were contaminated, endangering the health of both employees and nearby residents. Dr. Iversen concluded by emphasizing to the students that it makes a difference when people inform themselves and become activists for change.
The students were then treated to information about nuclear arms and demonstrations on sounds of war. Dr. Sullivan explained to the students that it takes less than a second to destroy an entire city by nuclear weapons and that we should all recognize that the possibility of people making mistakes with these weapons is always with us. Currently, nine countries have nuclear arms, with most held by the United States and Russia.
Mrs. Reiko Yamada, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, followed by presenting her experience on the day of the bombing. Mrs. Yamada was 11 years old at the time and was in school when she saw planes fly over the city. She and others at the school were blinded by light and immediately thrown to the ground. While Mrs. Yamada and her family managed to survive the bombing, she recounted the lack of food, water, or medication available afterward. The long term effects for the survivors were both physical and mental, including the reluctance to marry or have children for fear of contamination. Mrs. Yamada finished by concluding that the world’s focus should be on the future and creating a peaceful world.
The assembly ended with a presentation of 1000 paper cranes to Cardinal Spellman’s principal, Daniel O’Keefe, and a promise to return next year.