Now in Cookeville

January 22, 2010

by Pat Ryan

“How did this happen in Cookeville?” was the question I was asked in both Nashville and Knoxville when, almost three years ago, I described the newly founded Tennessee World Affairs Council to university professors and civic leaders in those cities. I was on the road building relationships with institutions that would partner with the Council’s global awareness education programs.

I was struck by their impressions that Cookeville was not much more than an I-40 way station, a gas stop or a place to catch something to eat on their way back and forth from each others’ cities. I glibly replied that when the notion came to build a non profit educational group that wanted to bring international affairs programs and resources to our Tennessee communities and schools, that Cookeville was “where I was at the time” – so that’s “how it happened in Cookeville.”

After a chuckle I went on to describe for them the community assets, as I knew them at the time, that exemplified the local interest in world affairs. There’s Tennessee Tech and its broad spectrum of international programs like the World Cultures in Business curriculum, Window on the World symposium and festival, and so much more; the inspiring work of churches and civic groups, like Rotary, abroad in international service works; the global market of Putnam County businesses – many of whom have unique niches and specialized products; the appetite for expanding the world view of students demonstrated by the International Baccalaureate program at Cookeville High School; and the wide representation of international cultures in the community – perhaps not as large as major American cities but certainly broader than most towns of similar size and geography.

In that context it is gratifying to see that one more marker is on the map that will demonstrate Cookeville’s interest in what is happening in the world, and the realization among many that those things are important to Americans in general and, as well, to Tennesseans and Cookevillians. That marker is the inaugural “International Night” being hosted on January 30th by the Cookeville Breakfast Rotary Club.

The organizers plan “International Night” to become an annual fixture on the Cookeville calendar to pursue the goal of “celebrating the world and raising awareness.” In that vein each event will highlight a particular country with India being the inaugural “honored country.”

The celebration of international culture and relations is a central theme of the event but Rotarians are also motivated by their commitment to international service, especially the battle to eradicate polio. So the dinner will also raise funds to be applied to Rotary’s works to advance global understanding, achieve peace and alleviate suffering around the world.

In addition to the music and dancing, sharing Indian culture, the dinner keynote remarks will feature Dr. KJ Singh of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – an organization that is committing over $350 million, joined with funds raised through Rotary clubs, to the polio eradication effort. Dr. Singh works in the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, and will be visiting Cookeville for this event on travels from Seattle to Geneva, Switzerland where the World Health Organization will be meeting. His travel to Cookeville shows the importance of the local Rotarians’ polio eradication fundraising and the value of sharing perspectives on international issues with our community.

The international outlook of our community should not be overstated but in three years organizing public outreach programs with the Tennessee World Affairs Council here it has been obvious that there is an appetite for such events. So while “International Night” next Saturday may not be a “Field of Dreams” it is one more example of “if you build it he will come.” The members of the Cookeville Breakfast Rotary Club are setting the table on a new international event and they hope you’ll take a seat. Then you’ll be able to help answer the question, “How did this happen in Cookeville?”

Pat Ryan is a retired sailor and writer. He lives in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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