Our half-century storybook is a who’s who of interesting names and spirited adventures. The beginning tells of a plucky Denver high school teacher, heaps of pennies and an international government program dreamt up by ol’ Ike himself.
This video features a White House Conference given by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on September 11, 1956, establishing his administration’s People-to-People Program. The People-to-People Program was made to enhance international relationships through education, the exchange of culture, and through humanitarian activity. The Program’s intent was to bring about a peaceful climate to counter the Cold War.
Denver’s first Sister City – Brest, France – is, in fact, the second oldest Sister City relationship in the US. It was formalized after Denver school children, led by East High School teacher Amanda Knecht, raised $32,000 in change to help rebuild the war-ravaged city. The money was allocated for the children’s wing of the Brest hospital, and the gift led to the development of an ongoing Denver-Brest Sister City program.
Having himself experienced the devastation of World War II, President Eisenhower summoned a White House Summit for a free and peaceful world. Out of this conference came the genesis for a People to People program. President Eisenhower believed that if citizens only understood other cultures better, they would be more tolerant and accepting of differences: “I have long believed, as have many before me, that peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals.”
President Eisenhower’s intention was to involve individuals and organizations at all levels of society in citizen diplomacy, with the hope that personal relationships, cultivated through “friendship” affiliations, would lessen the chance of future world conflicts. Thirty-three committees continued his original mission, the largest called National League of Cities – what would eventually become modern-day Sister Cities International.
1960 – 1983
In 1960, Denver befriends its second Sister – Takayama, Japan. In 1963, Denver Sister Cities International became a non-profit corporation under the organizational name of People to People Denver, and in 1983, the name officially changed to Denver Sister Cities International. The inauguration of Denver-Nairobi Sister Cities partnership was on March 2, 1975. The two-week Salute to Nairobi to commemorate the occasion consisted of folk-art, dances, handicrafts and other products from Kenya displayed at various downtown locations. Karmiel, northern Israel’s youngest and fastest growing development town was founded in 1964 and become Denver’s fourth sister city in 1977.
1983 – 2001
Leading up to the twenty-first century, the City of Denver befriends four more international Sister Cities: Potenza, Italy (1983); Cuernavaca, Mexico (1983); Chennai, India (1984); and Kunming, China (1985) – with official recognition and signing by Denver Mayor Federico Peña. The two most recent Denver Sister City relationships: Axum, Ethiopia (1995) and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (2001) are formalized by Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.
Currently, the City of Denver has relationships with 10 unique Sister Cities around the world, cultivating close business, economic and social ties with municipal governments and citizens alike.
Sister Cities International is still headquartered in Washington D.C. and has continued to thrive under successive US Presidents. A full-fledged non-profit global citizen network, the organization represents 1,749 international communities in 134 countries.
As the world (our backyard) grows, communities and individuals are facing opportunities and challenges that increasingly require a global perspective. They are realizing the importance of forming international partnerships that foster economic development, cross-cultural exchange, and global cooperation. Sister City programs are leading citizen diplomacy organizations geared toward helping communities seize the opportunities and overcome the challenges of this new global era.