What does the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology headquartered in Fayetteville actually do? Organizers say they’ve heard this question many times. Maybe it’s hard to understand because in a world where everything has it’s place and every organization has a specific mission, OMNI’s is broad, and encompasses an all-human-inclusive world view.
“It begins from the idea that we’re not a group that is just doing one thing. We have this overarching goal that is world peace. That’s pretty darn huge,” said OMNI director Gladys Tiffany.
OMNI was originally founded by Professor Emeritus Dick Bennett and a group of “concerned citizens” in resistance to the Iraq War that began in 2003, utilizing methods of the past like public protesting. As Tiffany described, the group was “old hippies” coming out of the Vietnam generation that knew what the horrors of war looked like, and thought they could get their government and the people to listen.
“We felt our government listened to us [in the past], and now they can’t do that, they’re stuck on maintaining our empire,” Tiffany said.
This change within the U.S. political system and economy has been the catalyst for change within OMNI. As the government pulled further away from the will of the people, OMNI organizers saw a need to change their strategy. What began as a group interested in showing their disapproval of war, has become a group attempting to be and spread the change they want to see in the world through education and empowerment.
Every week, OMNI sends out a membership newsletter with information on upcoming events, and the list gets long. From Civil Rights Roundtables to Summer Youth programs, if there’s an interest and a need, OMNI seeks to serve as facilitator.
For someone just entering OMNI, it seems merely a collaboration of like-minded people seeking social change. Tiffany explained how it is much more, and within the last year while redefining their strategies, they’ve sought after the core problems behind what perpetuates a culture of violence, and makes so many people unhappy and unhealthy.
“We are all connected and in order for us to have a happy, healthy life we have to be taking care of everything around us. Taking care of ourselves, each other, nature. If that is taken care of then we will be taken care of. It’s about taking care of all those parts. That’s what we’ve done this year is look at all the different parts that needed to be taken care of,” said AmeriCorps member and OMNI Youth Leader Robyn Riggins.
When OMNI members saw an issue with friends becoming homeless, they started discussing housing options; when they learned Arkansas was one of only a few states with no Civil Rights Commission, they gathered a group of social leaders to work on getting one; when they saw our food system declining and nutrition deficits, they took Tri Cycle Farms and Seeds That Feed under their nonprofit wing. The list goes on…and on.
While world peace is still their overarching mission, Tiffany said they’ve realized their most important mission right now is waking people up to the world around them.
“Right now, above all, human beings have to have a different vision for what we are ourselves. That is incredibly difficult. We don’t see how invisible the violence is in our culture and how violent we are to each other. It’s hard for us to look past what our customs of life are,” she explained. “We have to maintain our awareness of that large and vast goal. We can’t lose sight of it or we’ve lost our ability to act in a strategic manner.”
OMNI’s strategy is acting locally with concrete and real-life solutions, empowering youth and adults and being inclusive to all beliefs, ages, genders, sexual identities and any facet of peaceful human existence. When they hold an event, a meeting, a workshop, they’re all geared towards that goal. Which is why their mission can be so concise, and their projects so vast.
Upcoming projects for OMNI will include an adult empowerment workshop where attendees will learn to make their own soaps, permaculture and more, all with little to no fees. That’s another thing about OMNI, they have the ability to focus first on the change, and then on the finances.
Like Riggins said about the time she first visited OMNI, before receiving her position with the organization. “The people there were so sweet, as soon as I walked in I felt like I was with family.”
OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology will hold it’s annual fundraiser, informational event at Mt. Sequoyah Retreat Center with a buffet of lasagna and sides on Sat., Feb. 1, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. This year, organizers said the event will be engaging and concise, with a small slide show of all that OMNI has going on, and live music from local talent. Admission is $10 at the door, but like always, no one will be turned away if they can’t afford it. That’s because, in the end, Riggins said, it’s about the people. And together, people can do great things.