Day 39: James Forten

James Forten (1766-1842) was born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the grandson of a slave who had freed himself. After his father died, James Forten started working at age seven to help out his mother and sister, first as a chimney sweep and then as a grocery-store clerk. He also attended the African School, run by Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet. By age nine, Forten left school to work full-time.  During the Revolutionary War, Forten served on the Royal Louis. The ship was captured by British forces and he was at risk of being enslaved. Captain John Beazley, who had taken the privateer, was impressed with Forten and secured his being treated as a regular prisoner of war.

james-fortenForten was fortunate to survive the prison conditions in England where thousands of prisoners died. After 7 months he was released on parole and his promise not to fight in the war. He was returned to Brooklyn and walked to Philadelphia to return to his mother and sister and later signed up on a merchant ship that sailed to England. He lived and worked for more than a year in a London shipyard.

When Forten returned to Philadelphia in 1786, he became apprenticed to sail-maker Robert Bridges, his father’s former employer and a family friend. He learned quickly in the sail loft, ultimately purchasing the business in 1798. By 1810 his was one of the most successful sail-making businesses in Philadelphia, employing black and white workers, and Forten one of its wealthiest citizens. Having become well established, Forten devoted both time and money to working for the national abolition of slavery and gaining civil rights for blacks.  He wrote pamphlets and publicly denounced bills that mistreated free blacks. As the resettlement movement grew, Forten supported the idea of establishing black-governed nations like Liberia and Haiti. However, he also felt that many American blacks should have equal rights to property in the US as they had been here for generations. He consistently said that it was far better for them to fight for an egalitarian US society rather than to flee the country.

Forten financially backed William Lloyd Garrison in starting up start up his newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831, in which he frequently published letters signed as “A Colored Man of Philadelphia.” According to his biographer Julie Winch, Forten was “one of the most powerful African-American voices, for many thousands more throughout the North. He knew how to use the press and the speaker’s podium. He knew about building alliances, when to back down and when to press forwards with his agenda.”

He died at the age of 75 in Philadelphia. Thousands of people, both black and white, attended his funeral. His children and grandchildren remained active in the abolitionist movement as leaders, activists and educators. His granddaughter, Charlotte Forten Grimké became a poet, diarist and educator. Her diary from teaching freedmen and their children in the South after the Civil War was republished in scholarly editions in the 1980s.

For today, reflect on these words of Forten: “It seems almost incredible that the advocates of liberty should conceive of the idea of selling a fellow creature to slavery.”


Day 37: Neil Snarr

Neil Snarr grew up in New York and Indiana in a conservative household. After a stint in the Army and obtaining advanced degrees in Theology and Sociology, Neil took a teNeil Snarraching job at Wilmington College. WC is a small Quaker liberal arts college in Southwest Ohio. Not long after arriving at WC, Neil began attending Quaker meeting and has been deeply involved with Friends ever since.

At WC he taught a variety of courses in Sociology and Global Issues. He also taught frequently in Wilmington’s prison program, which was a central aspect of WC’s social justice-oriented mission. In the 1960s, Neil began taking students to Central America and Mexico to learn Spanish and about the realities of the region. This was the beginning of his decades-long interest in taking students abroad and concern for native people throughout the world.

In the 1990s Neil began taking a handful of students to Spring Lobby Weekend, organized by FCNL in Washington, DC. At Spring Lobby Weekend, students learn about an issue of concern to Quakers, learn how to lobby, and then apply this knowledge on Capitol Hill. What began as a few students in a van has evolved into a charter bus loaded with 50-plus students, faculty, staff, and community members from Wilmington, Ohio.

In the academic realm, Neil has done research on post-disaster housing in Central America, edited a book on Nicaragua, and co-edited a book on global issues (now in its 6th edition). Additionally, he has served on various Quaker committees including Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).

Upon retiring, Neil has remained active. At WC he raises money for student travel to Quaker-related issues and has researched the history of local desegregation efforts. Most recently, Neil received recognition for selling $10,000 worth of Palestinian fair trade olive oil. His support of Palestinian olive farmers fits well with Neil’s long-held mantra that “if you want to help disadvantaged people, you should buy their products.” Neil has also been instrumental in enabling WC students to join William Penn Quaker Workcamps as participants and leaders in DC, West Virginia and Pine Ridge.

In alignment with his dedication to education as peacemaking, there are these words from Maria Montessori: “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war.”

Day 23: Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, who lived between 1886 and 1967, was an Englsih poet, writer, and soldier. Because of his poetry, which described the horrors of the trenches, he became on of the leading poets of the First World War. Many of his poems also called into question the role of politicians in extending wars at the expense of and exploitation of soldiers.  

Siegfried_Sassoon_by_George_Charles_Beresford_(1915)Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within armed forces when he made a protest against the continuation of the war in his “Soldier’s Declaration” of 1917. After that, he got sent to a military psychiatric hospital where he met Wilfried Owen, who greatly influenced him.

Sassoon later won acclaim for his work, notably his autobiography, known as the “Sherston Trilogy”. Having matured greatly as a result of his military service, continued to seek emotional fulfilment, initially in a succession of love affairs with men. To many peoples surprise, he then married Hester Gatty – this led to the birth of a child.

However, the marriage was broken down after the Second World War, Sassoon apparently unable to find a compromise between the solitude he enjoyed and the companionship he craved. He then was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1951 and towards the end of his life, he converted to Roman Catholicism.

Siegfried Sassoon died one week before his 81st birthday.

In 1985, Sassoon was among sixteen Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Examples of the writings of Sassoon – words that have a timelessness to them and certainly speak to the times we live in:

“I believe that the purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.” 

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”

So for today, take a moment to reflect on one of Sassoon’s poems:

Does it matter? -losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter? -losing you sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they know that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Day 10: Prince Ea

Prince Ea is a poet, activist, speaker, director, and content creator who has touched the hearts, minds and souls of millions of people worldwide. He was born as Richard Williams in 1988 in St. Louis and took the stage name Prince EA when he graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in Anthropology and Latin honors. “Prince Ea” comes from Sumerian mythology meaning “Prince of the Earth”. In 2008, he released the mixtape “the Adolescence” as a free download. A few days later, he recorded an Prince Eaamateur rap video that won a VIBE Verses award giving him $5000 in music equipment and a full-page article in VIBE Magazine. He proceeded to win other competitions and awards. In 2009, upset by the state of the music industry, Prince Ea, started a movement named “Make ‘SMART’ Cool” (SMART is an acronym for “Sophisticating Minds And Revolutionizing Thought”). This movement attempts to “promote intelligence to everyone, everywhere and integrate it with hip-hop. To create and nurture, without discrimination or preference, a community of free-thinking individuals under the singular purpose of promoting the ideals of education, intelligence, unity and creativity throughout the world at large.”  A successful underground clothing line with increasing support from artists has been developed as well.  By creating positive, inspirational and thought provoking content, Prince has accumulated over 300 million views on the Facebook and YouTube platforms alone.

Today, Prince Ea consistently speaks at conferences and gives lectures to high school/university students nationwide, on the topics of self-development, education, living your passion and the importance of being motivated and engaged in the classroom. He has continued to produce music and perform in major venues. By creating positive, inspirational and thought provoking content, Prince has accumulated over 300 million views on the Facebook and YouTube platforms alone. His productions promote awareness and call for change on everything from race relations to protecting the environment (such as with this video).

Prince’s primary mission is to allow the grace of God/Universe to work through him creating content that spreads awareness, excites, entertains and ultimately galvanizes listeners/viewers to recognize the power, peace and equanimity within themselves. He believes that the only way to change the world is to change the individual.

For today, reflect on these words: “Where there is division, there is conflict and conflict starts wars; therefore, every war starts with labels…but deep down inside, we were meant to connect.”

And, if you have time, watch this Prince Ea production from which these words come: “I am NOT Black, You are NOT White.”

Day 9: John Lewis

John Lewis has spent all of his adult life as a champion for civil rights. Born in Troy, Alabama in 1940, he was the third son of a large family. His parents were sharecroppers.  While growing up, he witnessed segregation in full tilt. He remembers times when even checking out a book from the library was reserved for white people only. After high school, Lewis attended American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fish University, both in Nashville, TN. It was here that he became a leader of the Nashville sit-ins that ultimately led to the desegregation of lunch counters. He was also arrested many times in the struggle to desegregate the whole downtown Nashville area. While a student, he was introduced to non-violent workshops, and he became a dedicated adherent to the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence, something he still practices to this day.

lew0-005Lewis became one of the youngest leaders of the tumultuous 1960’s civil rights movement. He participated in the Freedom Rides, and followed Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks on the radio. He and his family supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963-66, during which time they opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer and voter registration efforts that led to the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. He was named as one of the “Big Six” leaders (along with Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins) to organize the 1963 March on Washington where MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis was the youngest speaker that day.  In his speech, he was going to ask “Which side is the federal government on?” when looking at the passivity of the government in the face of Southern violence. Other organizers eliminated that line, not wanting to offend the Kennedy Administration, but it was a question he would not let die. His subsequent leading of the Freedom Rides, which were bombed, and where Lewis was also beaten and left unconscious on the bus station floor, showed that federal government was not yet up to the task, simply calling for a “cooling-off period” and a moratorium on Freedom Rides. Lewis was imprisoned for 45 days for his participation.

After leaving SNCC, he spent the next decade working with community organizations and johnlewisfor the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta as community affairs director. He entered into politics in 1977. After an unsuccessful bid for Congress that year, he accepted a position in the Carter administration as associate director of Action, running the VISTA program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Foster Grandparent Program. He left that after 2.5 years to run for and win a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives, a seat he now holds. He is considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, but also can be fiercely independent and is known as the “conscience of Congress.” He opposed the Clinton adminstration on NAFTA and welfare reform, asking “Where is the sense of decency? What does is profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?”

Despite having seen some of the ugliest that humanity can dish out, Lewis is routinely upbeat and optimistic. For today, we have his words about that: “When I was a student, I studied philosophy and religion. I talked about being patient. Some people say I was too hopeful, too optimistic, but you have to be optimistic just in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence.” 

Day 25: Dr. Rick Hodes

Dr. Rick Hodes (b. 1953) is an American doctor specializing in cancer, heart disease and spinal conditions. Dr. Hodes has worked in Ethiopia since 1984, first as a relief worker during the famine, then as the advisor to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He continues to practice at various clinics in Addis Ababa, as well as volunteer at Mother Teresa’s Mission for the Destitute and Dying where he cares for some of the sickest children in the world. In 2001 Dr. Hodes adopted two of his patients so that they could afford treatment in the US. He has since adopted 3 more children, and has hosted as many as 20 of his patients. In 2006, Dr. Hodes was inducted into the Medical Missions Hall of Fame, and was nominated as one of CNN’s “CNN Heros” in 2007. rick-_980At Brandeis in 2013, Dr. Hodes delivered the following message: “A rabbi taught me a tradition that when the messiah shows up, he will ask just one question – ‘show me the bottoms of your shoes.’ The messiah, who will rebuild the temple, bring clarity to our lives and peace to the whole world. He cares about our shoes? Yes. The bottom of shoes should be worn out, worn out – making the world a better place, dancing in this world…Remember this: Run to do good. Create a momentum in the right direction. Get your hands dirty. Wear out your shoes. Don’t try to get too comfortable, please! Leave America and explore the world. Learn from other cultures.”

Day 19: Bertha Von Suttner

Bertha Von Suttner (1843-1921) was an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (and the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie’s 1903 award). Born in an impoverished family in which her father died before she was born, she was still able to learn several languages, develop an interest in music, and travel. She worked as a governess and, after a two week stay as secretary-housekeeper for Alfred Nobel in Paris, returned to Austria to secretly marry Arthur Suttner for whose family she had been a governess. His family disapproving of the marriage, Arthur was disinherited; he and Bertha left Austria for Soviet Georgia where they lived under difficult conditions in Tbilisi and earned their living by writing journalism.


After a family reconciliation they returned to Austria, where Bertha became active in peace and conflict studies and writing. Her novel “Lay Down Your Arms” made her one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. In 1897 she presented Emperor Franz Joseph I with a list of signatures urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice and took part in the organization of the First Hague Conventions. It is believed that, because of her continued correspondence with Alfred Nobel until his death in 1896, she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will.

For today, consider the words of this tireless pacifist: “The adherents of the old order have a powerful ally in the natural law of inertia inherent to humanity, which is, as it were, a natural defense against change…The advocates of pacifism are well aware how meager are their resources… They know that they are still few in number and weak in authority, but when they realistically consider themselves and the ideal they serve, they see themselves as the servants of the greatest of all causes.”