Black History Month: Focus on Three Black Women Who Share the Nobel Peace Prize

February is lack History Month. However, back in October, 2011, I read an article in Newsweek about Leymah Gbowee of Liberia (center), Tawakkul Karman (from Yemen on the right) and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state (left).  Here is a picture of the three of them I found on the Internet.

Leymah Gbowee has written a memoir entitled Mighty Be Our Powers (with journalist and author Carol Mithers), which I just finished reading after waiting several weeks for the book at the library. It was well worth the wait.

I recommend this book to every woman who thinks she cannot make a difference. Leymah tells of her struggles during the 13 year Liberian War, her difficult relationship with an abusive partner, her pain of leaving her children with her sister Geneva so she could bring peace to Liberia and then losing her sister to whom she dedicates her book, and organizing the women in white which helped bring down the dictatorship of Charles Taylor in 2003. (Leymah also worked with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her peace efforts.)

Here are some of Leymah’s thoughts from Mighty Be Our Powers, published in 2011 by Beast Books. (She is also a columnist for the Daily Beast & was featured in a documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”) Leymah’s $500,000 prize is being used to continue her peace work in Liberia, founded in 1847 by freed slaves from the U.S. (Source: Newsweek, October 24, 2011.) These are direct quotes that I put in italics:

This is not a traditional war story. It is about an army of women in white standing up when no one else would–unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened to us. It is about how we found the moral clarity, persistence and bravery to raise our voices against war and restore sanity to our land. …You have not heard it before, because it is an African woman’s story, and our stories are rarely heard…I want you to hear mine. (Prologue)

When you move so quickly from innocence to a world of fear, pain, and loss, it’s as if the flesh of your hearts and mind gets cut away, piece by piece, like slices taken of a ham. Finally, there is nothing left but bone. (p. 39) Leymah is writing about the end of her lovely childhood and the beginning of a 13 year war in Liberia.

Volunteering for the THRP (an organization that helped heal war victims) was my first introduction to being a peace-builder…..but what I learned there, and the people I met, changed my life forever.”(p. 82)

No one else in Africa was doing this: focusing only on women and only on peace building…The potential power of this movement was immense. (p. 134)


But over the last few months, we had discovered a new source of power and strength: each other….Giving up wasn’t an option . Peace was the only way we could survive. We would fight to bring it….I started to cry and to pray. The women kept coming. Fifteen hundred….More than two thousand…. (All dressed in white) (p. 137)

We announced on the radio that because men were involved in the fighting and women weren’t, we were encouraging women to withhold sex as a way to persuade their partners to end the war. (p. 147)

We had to ensure that what we’d done had a lasting impact. We’d shown women’s awesome power, but to me, our actions were the foundation of a movement, not its end product. It was time now to build on what we’d done…. (p. 168)

From the time they were young, I had told my children that what mattered most was education. With my own struggles to get a degree, I had shown them. (p. 184)

We could do great things for the women of Africa. (Writing about starting her own peace organization) (p. 187)

All my children have their dreams, but none of them wants to do the kind of work I do. It hurts, but I understand. My work has given me a lot, but it has also cost us dearly. I wasn’t there for Nuku’s sixth-grade graduation. Every year, Amber and Pudu have gotten school awards, and every year I’ve missed the program. Arthur lives for football and I’ve never seen him play a game…There are other costs.  Like most women in my field, I feel I have to work twice as hard as a man to be good enough. (p. 227)

With these few quotes I hope I have convinced you to read this book, which the flyleaf describes as “the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world.”

P.S. I could have posted this in Book Reviews, but chose to focus on  the Nobel Peace Prize Winners for Black History Month and include Leymah Gbowee’s role as peacemaker through the quotes from her memoir.

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