The recent campus gathering of Greeley Scholars was like a Who’s Who of peace builders.
Linda Biehl, the 2008 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies, is grace incarnate. Her daughter, Amy, a 26-year-old Stanford University student in Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship, was murdered. In the years since, the Biehls have decided to continue Amy’s work, and, in an astounding act of mercy, to forgive her murderers.
“Amy was always a citizen of the world,” said Linda, adding that Amy’s high school graduation cap had the words “Free Mandela” on it.
Biehl described her family’s initial reaction – an understandable anger. But she also described a quick change to a different sentiment shortly afterward.
“We could have sunk into a bitter, angry place, and demanded retribution, but we knew this would not please Amy, or honor her life,” said Linda.
The Amy Biehl Foundation employs many in an effort to spread the notion of restorative justice to African schoolchildren. Two of the foundations strongest advocates are Ntobeko Peni and Easy Nofemela, who were both convicted of Amy’s murder.
“They are the soul of our foundation,” said Linda.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Grabs Seat at the Table
Joining Biehl was Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Greeley Scholar and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Gbowee, a social worker, organized a peace movement that helped end the second Liberian civil war in 2003. Gbowee has organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, and is head of the Women’s Peace and Security Network Africa.
“It’s not rocket science how war starts,” said Gbowee, citing uneducated, powerful warlords and “stupidity coming from their mouths” and the fact that every house has a gun in it.
Gbowee talked about the difference between reconciliation and justice, and her belief that women must be at the table for peace initiatives.
In describing the Nobel Peace Prize award, Gbowee joked, “I am only 39 years old – I wish I won this at 65, then my work could be done, and the award would be my legacy.”
Instead, she continues pushing peace wherever she can.
Justice Sachs Surmounts the ‘Insurmountable’
In 1988, Albie Sachs, a well-known South African peace activist, unlocked his car in Mozambique and a car bomb took his right arm and his sight.
Undeterred, Sachs continued his fight for human rights.
Sachs, the 2014 Greeley Scholar for Peace, has served as a member of the Constitutional Committee and as National Executive of the African National Congress.
He was instrumental in negotiations that led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy, taking on tasks, including arms surrender and writing the constitution, that had been considered insurmountable.
“The process had ups and downs, breakdowns and massacres – this was not just a bunch of nice people coming to a table, but we worked together and eventually succeeded,” he said.
Throughout all of the steps, Sachs’ telltale inclusion approach was used: Parliament would be elected, not appointed and decisions would need to meet a 2/3 majority agreement.
During his years on the court, the court abolished the death penalty and overturned laws criminalizing homosexuality. Justice Sachs also wrote the opinion in the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage in South Africa.
Sachs shows no signs of slowing his peace efforts down, travelling the world surmounting the challenges one step and one vote at a time.
The Dana McLean Greeley Endowment for Peace Studies at University of Massachusetts Lowell supports an annual scholar. Each year, a committee appointed by the University and the Greeley Foundation selects a distinguished advocate for peace. Hosted by the University’s Peace and Conflict Studies Institute (PACSI) the Greeley Scholar works closely with campus constituencies on issues of interest to them. For more information, visit the Greeley Scholar website