Rwandan Who Protected Refugees During 1994 Genocide to Keynote 2020 DreamWeek

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Guests stand in front of a DreamWeek poster at the Coates Chapel. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

This year's DreamWeek features the theme "A Collective Vision" and includes a record 225 activities and events.

In its eighth year, San Antonio’s annual DreamWeek will kick off on Friday with the theme “A Collective Vision,” a nod to the year 2020. The ideas summit runs Jan. 10-26 this year with a record 225 events. 

The opening breakfast Friday will include remarks from keynote speaker Paul Rusesabagina, a native of Rwanda whose effort to protect more than 1,200 Hutu and Tutsi refugees in his hotel during the 1994 Rwandan genocide inspired the 2004 feature film Hotel Rwanda. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and San Antonio Poet Laureate Octavio Quintanilla also will help kick off the slate of activities and events timed to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Rusesabagina, who now lives in San Antonio, is founder of the Hotel Rwanda Foundation and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2006. Rusesabagina’s speech will not focus on the horrific events he witnessed during the genocide, when Hutu militia slaughtered more than 800,000 people over 100 days, said DreamWeek founder Shokare Nakpodia.

“The goal is not to have him recall or describe those atrocities,” Nakpodia said. “But how do you come from a situation where 800,000 people were slaughtered and still maintain your zeal for life? Where do you get that hope from? How can we as people learn to live together and forgive and not be dismissive of somebody’s frustrations so that it doesn’t get to a point where it becomes really pure evil?”

Such questions tie into the overarching theme of DreamWeek’s many events: to create more understanding and empathy towards others, especially those different from us. Nakpodia said the summit could be considered a New Year’s resolution for the city, a time for residents to reflect and figure themselves out.

For those new to DreamWeek who aren’t sure where to start, Nakpodia said he would encourage everyone to attend an event that stretches them.

 “I would hate for A Night In Syria to have [only] people from Syria there,” Nakpodia said, referring to an event on Friday that will include the music, food, and culture of Syria.

“If you are homophobic, go to an LGBTQ event, where you can listen and be a fly on the wall. Go to the one thing you’re most afraid of.”

One highlight of DreamWeek this year will be the DreamHour Migrant Series at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts’ Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, featuring 21 immigrants who have made their homes in San Antonio, coming from places as diverse as Latvia, the Congo, Taiwan, and England. Each will speak for an hour, three per night, over a period of seven days. 

Nakpodia said the speakers will discuss the complex duality of living life as an immigrant with a home country left behind and a new country to embrace.

“We’ve asked them to express what it is like to be from there, but you’re here now,” said Nakpodia, who is originally from Nigeria. “There’s a part of where you come from that you can’t really share that much. It’s almost like it’s gone, but it’s always there.”

Just a few of DreamWeek’s diverse happenings include a photo exhibit on breast cancer survivors, the Òlàjú African Market Festival at Blue Star Contemporary, a Conservation Society of San Antonio tour of Alamo Plaza focusing on its civil rights history, and many different film screenings, lectures, discussions, and art exhibits. 

Nakpodia’s inspiration for creating DreamWeek was the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., so the city’s MLK Jr. Day march is a focal point of the summit. 

The march, which is organized by the City of San Antonio’s MLK Jr. Commission, will be on Monday, Jan. 20, beginning at 10 a.m. at the MLK Jr. Academy and ending at Pittman-Sullivan Park. San Antonio’s march is among the largest MLK Jr. Day marches in the nation with an estimated 300,000 people participating last year.

DreamWeek’s closing event will be the Mayor’s Ball on Jan. 25 at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute of Texas Cultures. Tickets cost $125 and are available here.

A full schedule of DreamWeek events can be found here

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