“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Back in 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History group dubbed the second week in February, “Negro History Week,” the same week encompassing the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist movement activist. That later evolved formally into Black History Month as a national observance in 1976, and this month we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Black History Month here in the U.S.
In our mission to create an Earth beyond war and establish sustainable peace, we’re taking a moment to acknowledge a few of the many influential and empowering peacebuilders of the black community who have left an everlasting impact on the path towards a peaceful humanity. And while these individuals are recognized leaders in peacebuilding from previous generations, we recognize it’s impossible to list all of the global change-makers over time - and even today - who deserve to be on this list.
Who do you see emerging as the world’s leading peacebuilders today? Who do you believe will make history in our current generation?
Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was one of the most influential peacekeepers during the civil rights movement. He advocated for an end to discrimination through non-violent protest and mutual cooperation. Known for his “I have a dream” speech and his prominent leadership of the first great nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times through the bus boycotts, Dr. King was also one of the youngest men in history to have received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee...,” were the well-known words echoed by champion boxer Muhammed Ali. But what some may not know is that outside of the ring, Ali was a huge activist for human rights and the peace movement. Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army in 1967 citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was outspoken on various human rights and equality issues and believed that at the core of his protest against war that his conscience would not let him take another’s life.
W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a well-known American sociologist, historian, author, and peace activist. He was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909, and also had a collection of essays called The Souls of Black Folk, which ended up being a landmark of African American literature. Du Bois also founded the Niagara Movement, which was an African American protest group of scholars and professionals. Finally, he also served as a consultant to the UN founding convention in 1945, writing the famous “An Appeal to the World” speech focused on the denial of human rights to minorities in the case of citizens of the US.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress and a huge civil rights activist in the US. In 1968 Chisholm was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she quickly became known as a strong liberal who held a strong stance for peace, opposing weapons development and the war in Vietnam and favored full-employment proposals. She was also the founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, supported the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortions throughout her congressional career. Although she passed away in 2005, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Known for being the first black supreme court justice, Thurgood Marshall was one of the most influential lawyers and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A prominent civil rights activist, his most well-known case was the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, where he successfully made the case that schools that separated students by race were absolutely not created equal. Overtime, Marshall actually won more cases before the Supreme Court than anyone else in American history.
Nelson Mandela was known for his significant contribution to the peace movement in South Africa, Mandela became a global role model of goodwill to all. In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize due to his contributions in working to end racial segregation in South Africa. Spending over 20 years in prison for his opposition to the apartheid regime; Mandela was later elected as the first leader of a democratic South Africa in 1994.
Some may not know the name of Tegla Laroupe, as well as some of our other peacekeepers on this list, but she is just as impactful. Known as a famous Kenyan long-distance track runner, Loroupe is also actively involved in contributing to the causes of peace through the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. Similarly, she founded an annual series of Peace Marathons, dubbed "Peace Through Sports," creating a space for political leaders to run alongside warriors and nomadic groups in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The races have become a significant event, and her efforts in promoting peace amongst African tribes in 2010 were greatly recognized by the Kenyan Government.
Odette Budari Kamanzi
Odette Budari Kamanzi founded the Association of Congolese Women for Reconstruction, which brings together women from all communities in North-Kivu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their space provides room for an inclusive dialogue process with government officials to resolve conflict in the region and foster peace through creating sustainable and stable local institutions in the community. Additionally, Odette currently serves as a Senior Manager at the Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Fatima Alhaji Kolo
Fatima Alhaji Kolo is a trained peacebuilder in Damboa, Nigeria with a focus on non-violent conflict resolution work and support of the reintegration of survivors of sexual violence by Boko Haram. Kolo leads group sessions for women and young girls within the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Damboa, helping them to find peace and stability in their lives moving forward. In the camp she is called, “Mai shiryarwa,” which translates to “peace advocate.”
Desmond Tutu was a well-known campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, he has advocated for a variety of humanitarian issues, including racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and AIDS. In 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for being an influential figure in promoting the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, serving from 1997 to 2006 and because of him, UN peacekeeping was strengthened in ways that enabled them to cope with a rapid rise in the number of operations and personnel. Originally from Ghana, one of Annan's main priorities as Secretary-General was a comprehensive program of reform aimed at revitalizing the United Nations and making the international system more effective. He was a constant advocate for human rights, the rule of law, the Millennium Development Goals and Africa, and sought to bring the UN closer to the global public by forging ties with civil society, the private sector and other partners.
Francia Elena Márquez is an Afro-Colombian human-rights and environmental activist in Colombia, starting her activism at the early age of 13. In 2018, Marquez was awarded with the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to stop illegal gold mining in her community of La Toma. She also organized a protest march of 80 women who trekked 350 miles to Bogotá, Colombia, to demand the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from their community. She went on to study law at Santiago de Cali University.
Asha Haji Elmi
Asha Haji Elmi is a Somali politician, local peace activist and campaigner for women’s rights. As of August 2012, she is a former member of the Federal Parliament of Somalia. Elmi received numerous recognitions for her contributions, from the Blue-Ribbon Peace Award in 2005 all the way to the Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009, and the Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize for African Peace in 2010.
Alice Wairimu Nderitu
Alice Wairimu Nderitu of Kenya is UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. A recognized voice in the field of peacebuilding and violence prevention, she has led as mediator and adviser in reconciliation processes among communities in Kenya, as well as in other African settings. She served as Commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission in Kenya (2009-13) as well as a Founding Co-Chair of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, a prevention agency linking early warning to early response in Kenya. She is the founder of Community Voices for Peace and Pluralism, a network of African women professionals addressing violent, ethnic, racial and religious conflicts worldwide.
In 2002 in the town of Bojayá, a village located in the Choco region of Colombia, citizens found themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the paramilitary group United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A fight broke out on May 1, building up to the most brutal attack in Colombia’s 52-year conflict in which FARC guerilla forces bombed a church, killing 119 people. One of the people to survive was civil rights activist Leyner Palacios Asprilla. In 2014, Leyner co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, which represents 11,000 victims of the Colombian conflict. For centuries, because of their poverty and isolation, the communities in the municipality of Bojayá had no voice. Leyner united all of the local communities under the common goal of stopping the violence and fighting for their human rights. Now, these remote communities he created have created a collective voice that takes their demand for human rights to the highest levels of government, and around the world. In 2016 Palacios was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions in the fight for social justice.