Local officials and community leaders called for 10 days of discussion, healing, and unity Thursday evening during the kickoff event of San Antonio’s annual diversity summit DreamWeek.

The hour-long event took place in person as well as virtually and featured elected officials, Black community leaders, and local artists who voiced hope for a positive 10-day summit and healing in a nation still reeling from an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

It is not a coincidence this year’s DreamWeek theme is “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” DreamWeek founder Shokare Nakpodia said.

“We have something dynamic here [in San Antonio],” he said. “We have people who are Black, Hispanic, and white all living here together harmoniously for a long time.”

Following events at the U.S. Capitol last week and the galvanization of the Black Lives Matter movement this past spring, Nakpodia said he hopes people look toward San Antonio as an example of how people from different backgrounds can peacefully coexist.

“[This is] the city that has the largest MLK Jr. march in the nation,” he said. “Three-hundred-thousand people wake up on that Monday morning and go and march.”

Nakpodia said when he launched DreamWeek nine years ago he never imagined it would grow to the reach it has now. With this year’s event featuring over 140 virtual or in-person events, Nakpodia said his hope for this year’s summit is that it reaches even further, especially with so many of the week’s events being virtual.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who gave remarks on the event’s opening day, said he considers DreamWeek one of the most iconic events to arise in San Antonio in the past decade.

“It represents everything San Antonio should be,” Nirenberg said.

The mayor added that he feels DreamWeek has become one of the city’s greatest demonstrations of diversity and inclusion and allows for important discussions on civil rights. DreamWeek shows that especially through dialogue, music, and literature bonds can be formed among disparate social groups and unity can be achieved, he said.

“Our country desperately needs this type of discourse right now,” Nirenberg said.

Following the kickoff event, which was invitation-only and socially distanced inside the main auditorium at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Nakpodia said he hopes this week acts as a reminder that people are more than just Democrats and Republicans.

“We need to get away from the idea of just two [types of people],” Nakpodia said.

Events Nakpodia said events he is particularly looking forward to over the 10-day summit include a panel called “Black is…” – which will discuss the different types of nationalities and cultures the word “Black” encompasses – and this year’s DreamHour Speaker Series, which will feature 30-plus individuals from the community who will share their experiences as descendants of important but under-recognized Black Americans.

The kickoff event Thursday evening also included an invocation from Pastor Charles Flowers, a poem reading from San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Anderson, remarks from Alice Viroslav, and songs by singer Naomi Sumtintosay Johnson.

 A full schedule of DreamWeek events can be found here.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...