At the March 17 meeting, Jenny Wang of the Falun Dafa Association shared with us the background of the Shen Yun Performing Arts that her organization brings to Rhode Island each year.
Shen Yun, a celebration through dance, music, costume and story of ancient, nearly lost Chinese cultures, was founded by Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) to counter attempts by the ruling Communist Party in China to destroy or discredit any religious or spiritual aspects of the country's culture.
When Falun Gong, a Buddhist discipline that includes aspects of Taoism, became so widely practiced in China that practioners requested recognition from the government in 1999, the practice was instead declared heretical and tens of thousands of practioners were imprisoned. To this day, Falun Gong can only be practiced outside China, and if any known practioners return to their homeland, they are immediately imprisoned and threratened with execution if they do not recant their beliefs.
Shen yun was created as a way to preserve aspects of the ancient, spiritual cultures of China, and incorporates graceful choreography, colorful, flowing costumes, and beautiful, uplifting music to maintain a spritual connection with the past.  
Shen Yun Performing Arts will be appearing at PPAC in Providence April 17-18.
Dennis DeJesus of Special Olympics Rhode Island spoke at our March 10 meeting. He described how Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early 60s when Shriver served on President Kennedy's Panel on Mental Retardation. Her interest in helping those with intellectual disabilities was a result of her and Pres. Kennedy's older sister, Rosemary, who suffered from what was then known as mental retardation, a term no longer used today.
Built on the concept of promoting physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics currently includes about 4 million athletes in 150 countries worldwide, including some 4,000 in RI, and now includes a number of health-related initiatives, such as Healthy Athletes, which provides free physical screenings, and fundraising and awareness initiatives, most notably the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
The RI Summer Games are held at the URI Athletic Fields in late May and last year attracted about 1,500 athletes to compete.
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