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AHIF Hosts 11th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
December 27, 2012—No. 80 (202) 785-8430

AHIF Hosts 11th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference

WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its landmark Eleventh 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 Atlanta, Ga., at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Thalia N. Carlos Hellenic Community Center, on November 16-17, 2012.

Featuring more than 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.

At a dinner hosted the evening before the conference on November 16, AHI President Nick Larigakis opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from Conference Chairman Sandy Papadopoulos.

The dinner's Keynote Speaker was U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). Following the day's events he stated, "I very much enjoyed speaking to Atlanta's Greek American community about Hellenism in the Public Service. By giving back to the broader society we enrich ourselves as individuals, improve the communities we live in, strengthen our country, and set a great example for the next generation. By engaging in acts of Hellenism in the Public Service we express our philotimo and present the best of the high ideals and values of Hellenism. Whether it is a businessman serving on a hospital board, a student volunteering at Americorps, or an educator going the extra mile, Hellenism in the Public Service celebrates the great deeds and hard work of those in our community striving to give back to the broader society."

Atlanta natives Dr. Victor G. Polizos and Karen Stamatides received AHI's Hellenic Heritage and Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism.

In his acceptance, Dr. Polizos focused on how Hellenism has inspired him in his life and how the ancient Greeks instilled a sense of pride in his heritage. He also spoke of being inspired by his immigrant parent, as they taught him at an early age to love his Hellenic roots and shared stories of their homeland of Greece. He remains inspired everyday by witnessing the involvement of his wife, Christina, and children Georgea and Constantine, in their Greek Orthodox Church community through leadership in choir, Sunday School and Hellenic dance groups. Dr. Polizos also thanked many friends who have inspired and continue to inspire him through their life's work. "We all have one thing in common; our passion for Hellenism," he said.

In her acceptance, Stamatiades described her journey to becoming a Helleniphile, which was advanced by her longstanding membership in the Daughters of Penelope and that membership afforded her the opportunity to put this love into action. As the National President of the Daughters of Penelope, she instituted a Civic Responsibility campaign which reached out to members of Congress with the message of the purpose, goals and interests of the Daughters of Penelope. She also worked to outreach to the Daughters' 10,000 members to encourage them to become more involved in various Hellenic issues and carry that message to their respective representatives. This effort culminated in a successful Capitol Hill Day in March of 2008, which saw members and their representatives meeting face to face to discuss issues of Hellenic interest and thus gave us a unified voice to maximize impact. These programs are still in effect and continue to give the organization's members a vehicle to express their views and Hellenic concerns to their elected representatives.

The conference covered the following topics (below links lead to relevant sections in Conference Summary):

Opening and Welcome Remarks
Greek Education in America (Panel I)
The Greek American Community and the Political Process (Panel II)
Luncheon Speaker
The Cultural Dimension (Panel III)
The Changing Nature of the Greek American Community (Panel IV)
Current Perspectives on Current Changes (Panel V)
Looking to the Next Generation of Greek Americans (Panel VI)
Discussion: Where Do We Go From Here?
Photos

Sigmapharm Laboratories LLC sponsored the conference which was held in cooperation with the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Additional co-sponsors of the conference included: AHEPA Mother Lodge Chapter 1, AHEPA Mother Lodge Chapter 1 Educational Foundation, Lykion ton Ellinidon Atlanta, and a host of individual sponsors.

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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Conference Summary

Welcome Remarks

AHI President Nick Larigakis opened the conference proceedings on November 17, 2012 with an overview of the history of the Future of Hellenism in America Conference and what the day’s agenda would present to the audience.  He provided his thoughts about the current state of Hellenism.  Conference Chairman Sandy Papadopoulos, who would also be a panelist, provided welcoming remarks that touched upon the importance to the local community of AHI hosting this conference in Atlanta.

Panel 1: Greek Education in America

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Presvytera Evi Spiliopoulou Kaplanis, visiting lecturer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Aleco Haralambides, Esq., founding member and vice president, Archimedean Academy, Miami, Florida
  • Dr. Nickitas Demos, former director emeritus, Center for Hellenic Studies, Georgia State University
  • Moderator: Michelle O. Constantinides, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral Greek School Coordinator

In her presentation "Church Greek School Programs in America: Are We Meeting the Needs?," Presvytera Evi Spiliopoulou Kaplanis offered the opinion that the Church has been the beacon of keeping the Greek language alive and has worked to work to provide for our children the material and the personnel for the fundamental learning of everything Greek, and continues to do so. "The program cannot be successful however, if the people and parishioners do not participate in the program, do not embrace the program and do not make a conscientious decision that the Greek language will be part of the educational enrichment for their children," she said. In addition, parents play a key role in determining how strong of support teaching the Greek language will have because of the resources they must commitment to make it a successful teaching program. She concluded the community's concentration is best served on developing strong parochial day schools with strong language departments that will meet the needs of the students and offer them great education, Greek language, appreciation and knowledge of cultural events, traditions, manners and customs of Greece.

Aleco Haralambides, who is a former president of AHI, shared his experience as a founding member of Archimedean Academy, a public charter school that opened its doors nine years ago. He explained how public charter schools are administered and the challenges of a Greek language school, including the difficulty of securing Greek language textbooks for grade levels one through four. Archimedean Academy has 950 students enrolled with another 1,000 on a waiting list, he said. Less than 10 percent are Greek American, he added. Haralambides believes Greek language public charter schools can be an outlet for third, fourth, and fifth generation Greek Americans to learn Greek, and in addition, the school can serve as "feeder programs" for Modern Greek Studies programs at universities.
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Panel II: The Greek American Community and the Political Process

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Andreas Akaras, policy advisor, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland
  • Nick Larigakis, president, American Hellenic Institute
  • Ambassador Patrick Theros, principal, Theros & Theros LLP
  • Moderator: Mike Cheokas, representative, Georgia House of Representatives

Opening this panel was Andreas Akaras, who discussed why it is important for members of the community to become involved and engaged with Congress under the topic "The Importance of Grass Roots Advocacy Efforts." He spoke to the importance of grass roots activism and civic participation in the broader society.

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 superficially." Larigakis stressed the importance of speaking to legislators as Americans and educating them as to why it is important for 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, its facilitating the use of NSA Souda Bay, and its role in the Balkan War, which was unpopular in Greece. Larigakis also discussed Cyprus' importance to United States interests, including being an initial signatory to a PSI agreement with the United States, being a safe haven for American citizens who had to evacuate Lebanon, and the utilization of the port at Limassol for "R and R." 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.

To present examples of whether or not the Greek American community's messages are getting through to mainstream audiences and think-tank organizations, Ambassador Patrick Theros made several observations stemming from his participation with foreign policy think-tanks and councils as a former member of the Foreign Service. Presenting on the topic, "How Effective Are We in Getting Our Message Heard and Considered?," he noted that the Greek American community's tactics have not changed over the years, especially since 1974. He cited two examples of problems for the Greek American community: 1) there is no coordination between Greek American organizations unlike the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations and 2) Congress is no longer the center for the development of American foreign policy. Instead, policy is developed by bureaucracy. "We rely on a reciprocal response to our generous actions but this is not in the United States' political DNA," he said. "Philotomo is not in the American political lexicon." Ambassador Theros concluded with three recommendations: 1) the community must increase the number of Greek Americans who enter the Foreign Service, 2) the community must revisit the approach it takes to bureaucracy, and 3) ensure that whatever message is communicated is in the best interest of the United States.

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Luncheon Greetings & Speaker

Demetrius Mazacoufa, Esq., partner, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP, served as luncheon chairman. He thanked the conference benefactors and introduced the luncheon's principal speaker, Professor Dan Georgakas, who is the director of Greek American Studies, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY. He spoke on the topic "The Now and Future of Greek America." The professor opened his address by noting that on July 26, 1922, AHEPA had been launched in Atlanta to address the challenges then facing the Greeks in America. The categories with which AHEPA chose to identify itself remain useful in addressing our current challenges, he added.

Professor Georgakas turned his focus to when the community speaks about American foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. He noted the community's views are easily dismissed as if they are seen as merely being expressions of ethnic pride. "We must make it clear that the policies we advocate are best for the long-term interests of the United States," he said.

He continued, "At the same time, we are carriers of unique historical traditions that have decisively shaped the secular and religious nature of western societies. Knowledge of these Hellenic traditions, however, is not a matter of genetic inheritance. Educational activism is essential to maintaining and enriches them. This requires vigorous support of the various educational venues that offer Greek language instruction and cultural appreciation."

To be progressive, Georgakas contends the community needs to embrace the new multi-cultural dynamics of American society and the technological breakthroughs that have wiped out geographic constraints on communication. These two factors allow the Greek American community to celebrate its Hellenism more easily than at any previous time in American history.

Professor Georgakas also spoke about the importance of Internet and other technological advances. "The technological revolution also has made it possible for Hellenes, wherever they may reside, to be available for instant interactions," he said. "These contacts can range from the purely personal to complex scholarly, artistic, and economic projects. In all instances, however, a healthy relationship with other Hellenes requires mutual avoidance of the paternalistic and condescending attitudes that have sometimes marred relationships in the past."
The professor concluded with a brief review of the demographic factors that work against enduring ethnic identity in the United States. "To ignore these realities would be suicidal," he said. "Happily, over the past decade, the Greek American activism at the local level has shown considerable vigor. Given the new social dynamics and technological tools at hand, this opens the door for a renewable and culturally enriched Greek America."
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Panel III: The Cultural Dimension

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Connie Mourtoupalas, director, National Hellenic Museum
  • Maria Kaliambou, senior lector in Modern Greek, Hellenic Studies Program, Yale University
  • Moderator: Maria Mandekos Sharp, founder and vice president for Special Events, Lykion ton Elllindon, Atlanta

Maria Kaliambou addressed the topic, "The Book Culture of Greek Americans." "As soon as Greeks began immigrating to the United States, Greek American publishing houses—mostly family businesses—appeared in urban centers such as New York, Boston, and Chicago," she said. Kaliambou described the various kinds of books that existed within Greek immigrant communities in America: "high" and "low" editions; books for adults as well as children; books with educational, religious, social, humorous, or functional character, among others. Also a significant number of serials and periodicals are published in almost every community. "Their broad repertoire of books and newspapers aimed to fulfill all the reading needs of Greek immigrants," she said. In her presentation, she discussed the crucial role these publications played in the cultural education and self-awareness of immigrants. Research on the book history of Greek Americans can contribute not only to Diaspora studies but can also lead to a better understanding of oral vs. written literature, book history, and cultural identity, she added.

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Panel IV: The Changing Nature of the Greek American Community

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Sandy Papadopoulos, Past AHEPA Supreme Governor
  • Reverend Father Paul Kaplanis, dean, Annunciation Cathedral of Atlanta
  • Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D., associate professor of Education, North Park University, Illinois
  • Moderator: Damon Limberis, vice president, AHEPA Mother Lodge Chapter 1

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.

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Panel V: Current Perspectives on Current Challenges

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Dr. George P. Tsetsekos, dean emeritus, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University
  • Dov Wilker, regional director, American Jewish Committee – Atlanta Regional Office
  • Moderator: Panos P. Constantinides, Esq.

Dr. George P. Tsetsekos opened the panel speaking on the topic, "The Greek Economic Crisis: Its Relevance to the Greek American Community." The Greek crisis is attributed to two fundamental issues, he explained. First, it reflects the wrong economic design of the Eurozone where the introduction of a common currency was not coordinated with fiscal consolidation across European countries. Second, the crisis reflects the three-dimensional (3D) problem of the Greek economy: (a) huge accumulated debts generated from inexpensive borrowing to finance public, not private sector investments, (b) excessive government deficits reflecting generous entitlement programs to Greek citizens without enforcing a culture for tax collections and (c) an ambiguous economic development program based on expanding public sector employment that eventually resulted in a non-competitive economy. The immediate need to reduce the country's deficits (Debt/GDP is approximately 190 percent) was addressed with three attempts to restructure the Greek debt. Despite these efforts, in its fifth year in recession the country is in desperate need for investments to create growth and overcome formidable obstacles of balancing revenues and expenses in an environment of global competition. "The outcome of efforts in Greece and in EU will impact the world economy; however, due to diverse cultural backgrounds and stated objectives, the progress in Europe and Greece towards agreed goals is painfully slow and the impact of the economic crisis will be visible for a few more years and will dominate world economic developments," he concluded.

Dov Wilker followed with a presentation on the topic, "The Jewish American Community: How Do We Compare?" Wilker identified the similarities that exist between the Jewish and Greek communities. "Whether through our religious institutions or our role as Diaspora communities, the Jewish and Greek communities have shared a history for over two millennium and we look forward to working together in the future," he said.

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Panel VI: Looking to the Next Generation of Greek Americans

Session speakers and moderator included:

Nick Larigakis, president, American Hellenic Institute

Georgea Polizos, legislative assistant, American Hellenic Institute

Melanie Papadopoulos, intern, Carter Center

Nick Kostopoulos, BFA, writing for Screen and Television, University of Southern California

Moderator: Professor C.G. Alexandrides, professor emeritus of Management, Georgia State University

To open the panel, 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: Perspective from Young Greek Americans

Georgea Polizos, who participated on the AHI Foundation's Study Abroad Foreign Policy Trip, shared her passion for Hellenism's impact in the community and how it had such a tremendous effect on her life. "It was truly inspiring and enlightening to have so many of us come together in the spirit of Hellenism," she said. "I feel that the future of the Greek American community is brighter than ever with so many of us working together on issues that are vital to our cultural heritage."

Nick Kostopoulos shares his thoughts from witnessing the many different panel discussions held at the Hellenism Conference. "It was enlightening to see a great many number of ways people interact and engage with their heritage; proof that identity is as much a form of personal expression as it is a collective one," he said. As a second generation Greek American, Kostopoulos offered it was his Orthodox faith that allows him to feel connected to the past. "Through the Divine Liturgy, I not only grow spiritually, but also ever more aware of the importance our religion played in the lives of our forefathers," he said. Kostopoulos believes that as long as future generations maintain a connection to the Church, then no one can ever fully lose connection with what it means to be Greek in America.

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Concluding Remarks

Following the series of sessions, AHI President Nick Larigakis provided an overview of the day's proceedings and identified the common themes that were presented.

Photos of the pre-Conference dinner

Photos of Conference

 

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.