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Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

Forest Whitaker Named UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation

Forest Whitaker with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, at his Goodwill Ambassador induction ceremony

Forest Whitaker with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion, at his Goodwill Ambassador Induction Ceremony (Thibault Camus/AP image)

Forest Whitaker speaking at his Goodwill Ambassador Induction Ceremony

Forest Whitaker speaking at his Goodwill Ambassador Induction Ceremony (State Dept image)

Oscar-winning actor and peace activist Forest Whitaker was inducted as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, in a ceremony at UNESCO headquarters on June 21, 2011. Mr. Whitaker has made dozens of films as an actor, director or producer, but is perhaps best known for his unforgettable portrayals of former Ugandan President Idi Amin in "Last King of Scotland", for which he received an Academy Award, and Charlie Parker in "Bird", for which he was awarded the Palme d'Or in Cannes.

But Forest Whitaker is also a humanitarian that has worked to raise awareness about youth and violence, particularly the plight of child soldiers through his work with "Hope North Uganda", an organization that provides safe haven for refugees, orphans and former child soldiers, and his film about Ugandan child soldiers, "Better Angels". Mr. Whitaker's commitment to the issue was born of his experience growing up in South Central Los Angeles and witnessing the rise of gang violence there.  He has emphasized the commonalities between such phenomena, telling UNESCO that "these stories are related...this is in Uganda but you'll hear the same stories all over the world in different incarnations."

At the induction ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion described Mr. Whitaker as a "perfect choice as a Goodwill Ambassador...He has exemplified compassion in every area of his life, with humility and grace.  He does this because it's the right thing to do, not because it makes headlines or promotes his next film."

As Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Whitaker will work with UNESCO to support or develop initiatives that empower youths and keep them from entering or remaining in cycles of violence. To this end, on June 21st, he participated in a roundtable discussion on youth and violence with ambassadors to UNESCO from several different countries, including Pakistan, Columbia, Mexico, and South Africa.  Mr. Whitaker will also participate in UNESCO's Youth Forum in October 2011.

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors are "an outstanding group of celebrity advocates who have generously accepted to use their talent and status to help focus the world's attention on the work of UNESCO." They are selected in recognition of their contribution to UNESCO's mission to build peace in the minds of men through work in any one of its four fields of competence: science, education, culture, and communication/information.