Drew CRCC Honors Global Peacebuilders
With religious and culturally-based violence increasing in frequency and intensity each year, it is difficult to imagine building lasting peace in the world. But according to former New Jersey Governor, 9/11 Commissioner and Drew’s 10th president, The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, it is possible through education and reconciliation.
Serving as the keynote speaker for the Inaugural Gala for Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict (CRCC) on Monday, March 31, Kean spoke to more than 100 guests about how peace is possible. “There are more hostpots of violence in this world today than I remember in this lifetime. But education leads to truth-seeking. Truth-seeking leads to reconciliation,” Kean said.
“The CRCC is dedicated to doing that by combining scholarly understanding with real-world solutions. If people have a true understanding of history and work toward reconciliation, we can make this a world where violence happens less frequently,” Kean said.
CRCC supporters Dr. Sol and Mrs. Meri Barer hosted the gala at their home in Mendham. Drew’s current president, Dr. Vivian Bull, and Drew’s president elect, Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger, also attended along with university trustees, members of the CRCC board, and other special guests.
The interfaith artwork of George Lewis was available for purchase. Lewis has held exhibitions worldwide and has a growing collector base in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
To honor the importance of education in the peacebuilding process, CRCC presented the Empowerment Through Education Award to I. Leo Motiuk, an attorney who practices environmental law and is the founder of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund. Shamila Kohestani, ’12, who attended Drew as a result of Leo’s partnership, presented the award.
“Growing up in Afghanistan, I didn’t realize how important education was until it was taken away from me. Without education, a society is incomplete,” Kohestani said. “Leo started with me: one girl and one college. Now there are 30 girls getting an education.”
Since beginning AGFAF in 2008, Motiuk has held retreats at Drew, and is collaborating with the CRCC on a new initiative to connect Drew students with students in Afghanistan for long-distance, cross-cultural learning. “Drew opened the door to Shamila and she walked through and she shined. I like to say: AGFAF, Shamila and Drew… perfect together.”
Also critical to the mission of peace is reconciliation. The CRCC presented the Peace Through Truth and Reconciliation Award to Don Mullan, an Irish humanitarian, film producer and best-selling author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth. Mullan was a teenager attending his first protest in Derry when he witnessed the tragic shooting of civilians by British soldiers in 1972, leading to what is commonly known as Bloody Sunday.
Mullan is widely regarded as the man who got the British government to re-examine the events of that day, which ultimately led to the British government apologizing for the massacre. He is also credited with helping to advance the Irish peace process.
Irish historian and professor Dr. Christine Kinealy presented the award to Mullan. When Ireland was erupting in violence, Don made a different choice, she said. “He was fighting with debate, persuasion and dialogue. Don’s activism goes beyond this one event, and beyond Ireland’s borders.”
Mullan emphasized that his truth-seeking was about creating something positive and lasting. “It was not about hatred. It was never about being anti-British. It was always about the truth. There are always wonderful people on both sides. When the moment for peace comes, they will be the bridges for it.”
Today, Mullan is involved with three new projects: the Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell Memorial Project, which aims to create closer ties between the great Diasporas of Africa and Ireland in America for the betterment of humanity; the Christmas Truce Project-The Flanders Peace Field, inspired by the 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I; and the Pelé Legacy Project-Goals for Life in Brazil.
A thread of his work, Mullan says is finding “common humanity.” He made reference to his good friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu , who has spoken of Mullan’s work in the Irish peace process as a “gift to world peace.”