Dick Yarbrough, Syndicated columnist
Linden Longino is a retired Atlanta banker who should have Nobel Peace Prize recipient next to his name. In 1995, Longino started a program in connection with the Carter Center called International Paint Pals, an idea simple, ingenious and oh-so needed — inspire children to promote peace, friendship and human rights by creating personal artwork.
Since its inception, International Paint Pals has involved more than 200,000 kids, ages 5 to 19, from over 125 countries. Their art has been displayed in venues around the world from universities, museums, Nobel Peace Summits to the Olympic Games. His organization was considered for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020. In my opinion, no one was more deserving. I have seen examples of the works from young people of all races and religions from across the globe. All creatively expressing their hopes for Peace on Earth through their art.
Longino describes his organization’s mission this way: “Children everywhere have natural seeds of tolerance and peace in their minds and hearts. Our goal is to nourish these seeds.” In other words, let’s teach them to love before they learn to hate.
Currently, he has a group of young people making welcome cards for Ukrainian cancer patients who are arriving at St. Jude Children’s Cancer Hospital in Memphis.
Unfortunately, for Vladimir Putin, art is about the art of war, a feeling not necessarily shared by the Russian people. In the midst of the invasion of Ukraine, Longino told me he had reached out to several Russian friends who had assisted him over the years with his International Paint Pals work.
“Since Putin invaded Ukraine a month ago,” he said, “I have been in regular email contact with eight of them — good people in a desperate country taken over by an evil president. One asked me to let my friends here know their feelings and I want to honor that request with you.” And I, in turn, share with you.
The group consists of eight men and women ranging in age from 39 to 75, all involved in Russia’s arts industry. Seven live in St. Petersburg and one in Rostov-on-Don, only 400 miles from Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine which Longino says is “terrifyingly close if the bombed Ukrainian nuclear power plant had exploded and may still.”
Here are some excerpts from their comments to him: — “Unfortunately I cannot tell you all I think via email. I believe you know what I meen (sic.)
It is like one brother comes against other one. Believe me, I would be happy out of this country, but I am stuck here.”
— “Today I met with a business partner who is from Ukraine. I had never met her before. I do not know anything about her life. But we hugged and cried together. We are all the same.”
— “It is very sad and troubling time indeed. The work of our Art Institute in St. Petersburg is stopped. I hope so very much that peaceful solutions will be found very soon.”
— “Hope these terrible times will finish as quick as it’s possible. And we will meet again in free and peaceful world.”
— “The world’s got absolutely mad, mad, mad, mad! But we do believe that reason will prevail and common sense will make people stop fighting against each other.” — “It is a pity that today humanity has lost the qualities that man was originally endowed with. And it’s only getting worse.”
— “I am clearly understand that if some country will use nucliar (sic) weapon it is the end of the world. The main thing right now is to stay calm and believe in friendship and peace.”
— “I seriously think about escaping from Russia, but where and how is really serious question for us.” To Longino’s dismay, one correspondent has bought into Putin’s propaganda that he is getting rid of Nazis who control Ukraine:
—“I know that the media are trying to portray Russia as an aggressor. Russia has to fight against Nazism which flourishes in Ukraine thanks to the support of the West.” There is always one in every crowd. Vladimir Putin was born in 1952, 43 years before the formation of International Paint Pals. You have to wonder what the world might be like today if as a child, Putin had been inspired by someone to create and share with the world his own personal artwork promoting peace and friendship. It is Linden Longino’s hope that we will never have to ask a question like that in the future.