Voices Against Indifference Initiative

Sly Cheney-Coker Project: Free to Write

October – November 2002

Press Release 10.16.02

For Immediate Release 

For more information:
Kathy Rowan 704.541.7529 or
Adam Bernstein 704.374.9300


Echo Foundation brings Sierre Leonean Poet Syl Cheney-Coker to charlotte; Student dialogues, community events planned for Oct 28-31

October 16, 2002 (Charlotte, NC) – Syl Cheney-Coker, a poet and novelist in exile from Sierra Leone, will be in Charlotte Oct. 28-31 for The Echo Foundation’s Voices Against Indifference Initiative, an educational project featuring a series of student dialogues and community forums. Cheney-Coker’s

“Free to Write” dialogues with high school and college students, community leaders and writers will focus on freedom of expression issues, against the backdrop of his personal struggle for freedom in his war-torn homeland to his current refuge in the United States.

The Echo Foundation’s Voices Against Indifference Initiative is a multi-faceted program that provides a local stage from which speakers share their personal story or experience to encourage dialogue about human rights issues, and to spotlight how one person can make a difference for humanity through words, action and moral courage.

Events scheduled for the Syl Cheney-Coker Charlotte visit include:


  • Oct. 29th, 10:30 a.m. – 1p.m. – Cheney-Coker Dialogue with 300 students at Myers Park High School
  • Oct. 30th, 7:30 p.m. – Community Forum with Cheney-Coker at The Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Avenue. Free and open to the public.
  • Oct. 31st, 10a.m. – 1p.m. – Cheney-Coker Dialogue with 300 students at Charlotte Country Day School

Syl Cheney-Coker will also be a guest during a segment on Mike Collins’ Charlotte Talks program on WFAE Radio (90.7 FM), Oct. 29th beginning at 9 a.m.


Born in Freetown in 1945, Cheney-Coker lived under constant threat from the rebels of the United Revolutionary Front from 1991 to 1997. After his house was attacked following the 1997 coup d’etat, he sought refuge in the American Embassy. He is currently a Writer-in-Residence in the City of Asylum Program at the International Institute of Modern Literature at the University of Las Vegas, NV. Cheney-Coker says the tragic events in Sierra Leone have shaped his mind to the point of making literature the only alternative to grief, silence and outrage. He has been characterized as one of the more exciting and strident voices among the younger African poets, and is a frequent speaker at literary festivals around the world. Cheney-Coker’s literary works (poetry, books, essays and short stories) have been translated into Dutch, Filippino French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian.

Students participating in the dialogues with Cheney-Coker have been studying his writing in preparation for his visit. Amanda Shintay, student liaison for The Echo Foundation board of trustees and Myers Park High School IB senior, also notes that learning about Cheney-Coker’s struggle has inspired students in her school to develop additional programs following his Charlotte visit. One event in the planning stages now, says Shintay, is an Open Mike Poetry Reading co-hosted by Myers Park High School and Johnson C. Smith University. This event, scheduled for Nov. 17th from 6-8 p.m. in the Myers Park High School Auditorium, will benefit Cities of Asylum, an international program that provides refuge for writers living in socially and politically oppressive nations. There are currently two U.S. cities (Las Vegas, NV. and Ithaca, NY) among the 36 Cities of Asylum around the world. “We hope that our benefit might be the catalyst to spark interest in and raise funds for Charlotte to become a City of Asylum,” she said.

The Echo Foundation was founded in 1997 to carry on the message that Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel brought to Charlotte that year – a call to action for human dignity, justice and moral courage. Some recent Echo Foundation Voices Against Indifference Initiative guest speakers include: Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Human Rights Advocate Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, and Chinese Dissident Harry Wu. In February 2003, Columbia Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs will be the keynote speaker at The Echo Foundation Annual Award Dinner, following a dialogue with some 850 high school students from the Charlotte area.


NOTE TO EDITORS: More details about the Open Mike Poetry Reading are on the following page. Photos of Syl Cheney-Coker are available through The Echo Foundation at 704.347.3844.


For more information, contact: Myers Park students Katie Chamblee, (704) 377-9594 or

Amanda Shintay, (704) 362-0925 or The Echo Foundation (704) 347-3844.



  • Sunday, November 17, 2002, 6-8 p.m. at Myers Park High School Auditorium
  • Readers should arrive between 5 and 6 p.m.
  • Readers may choose to share their own work or that of another author. Works can be written in another language, although it is requested that a translation be read as well.
  • Selections must be under two minutes long, and should relate to the topics of free speech, diversity, tolerance, humanitarianism or other themes befitting the event.
  • Open to the public. A $5.00 donation is suggested.


  • Event will be recorded and broadcast on Myers Park High School’s station of web radio. Poetry will be published in STAND (Student Tolerance and Non-Discrimination) Magazine at www.tolerancematters.org



  • Co-hosted by Myers Park High School and Johnson C. Smith University in association with The Echo Foundation
  • Funds raised at the event will provide seed money to explore the possibility of Charlotte becoming a City of Asylum.



In 1995, the International Parliament of Writers (IPW) established a network of cities that host writers and artists who are persecuted in their countries of origin. Cities are set up, according to IPW member Christian Salmon, as “free zones where creation is not merely tolerated but encouraged, where writers can continue to write despite the assassins. An ark or archipelago for imagination.” Today, there are 36 cities that have hosted writers from Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and others. There are only three Cities of Asylum in North America.