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 38: Andy Shallal

Today’s Peacemaker is DC-area artist, activist and entrepreneur (owner of Busboys and Poets) Andy Shallal. Anas “Andy” Shallal was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1955. While serving as the Ambassador of the Arab League, his father moved the family to the US in 1966 but as the Ba’athists and Saddam Hussein seized power through the ’70’s, the family could not return. Andy got a degree from Catholic University and enrolled in Howard University medical school. He also worked as a medical immunology researcher at NIH before returning to the restaurant business that his family had entered.

andyshallal (1)After opening and running three successful restaurants with his brothers in DC, he sold his interests and opened the first Busboys and Poets in 2005. Now with 6 locations in the DC metro-area, these are more than restaurants; they are bookstores and market-places that promote social awareness and justice causes, and where fair-trade products are sold, and where organic, earth-friendly food and beverages are promoted. These places also are gathering places for community events that promote dialog and understanding. These efforts to promote healthful and sustainable practices has gained recognition by the US Healthful Food Council. Shallal is also one of the co-founders of Think Local First, promoting and supporting local business owners and sustainable practices.

In addition to the businesses, Shallal has been active in a number of political and social justice causes (among his teachers was Colman McCarthy). He is a member of Restaurant Centers Opportunity United that promotes good wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. He has been active in numerous peace movement organizations, including Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, and the Peace Cafe that promotes Arab-Jewish dialogue. He participated in many events protesting the second Gulf War, and spoke at the “counter-inauguration” of GW Bush in 2005. He also catered Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war camp/vigil outside Bush’s Crawford Ranch.  He has received the UN Human Rights Community Award, the Mayor’s Environmental Award, the Mayor’s Art Award, the Washington Peace Center’s Man of the year, and numerous leadership awards in employment and sustainability practices. His artwork can be seen in all of the Busboys and Poets locations as well as other places throughout DC.

As he has become successful, he has also recognized the tension that comes with advocating for equality while being rich. In 2013, he stated “I am increasingly uncomfortable with my comfort.” He has spoken out for higher minimum wages, and raised concerns about the difference between healthy communities and gentrification. He was outspoken in advocating that Walmart stores opening in DC pay decent wages and provide for worker rights.  In addition, despite his financial success, his two daughters attended public high schools and colleges.

For today, here are two quotes of his that reflecting the spirit of Shallal:

“Every culture from around the globe contains an infusion of food culture that is relative. So we all have something to share.”

“If we continue to think of ourselves as color-blind, then I think we’re always going to be tripping over ourselves.”

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 36: Boyan Slat

Ocean CleanupBoyan Slat , born 27 July 1994, is a Dutch inventor, entrepreneur and aerospace engineering student who works on methods of cleaning plastic waste from the oceans. He designed a passive system for concentrating and catching plastic debris driven by ocean currents. He established The Ocean Cleanup, a foundation to further develop and eventually implement the technology that would drastically reduce the amount of time it would take to clean up all the plastic in the ocean. Initially, there was little interest but now he has attracted thousands of volunteers and $2M of funding for pilot installations. In November 2014, he won the Champions of the Earth award of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The goal is to fuel the world’s fight against oceanic plastic pollution by initiating the largest cleanup in history. The Ocean Cleanup develops technologies to extract, prevent and intercept plastic pollution. Instead of going after the plastic, Boyan devised a system though which, driven by the ocean currents, the plastic would concentrate itself, reducing the theoretical cleanup time from a millennia to mere years.  This innovation has received notice from Fast Company, and was named one of the top 25 inventions of 2015 by Time Magazine.

Take a moment today to reflect on these wise words from this remarkable young man:

“Fix this planet, before we fix another one”

You can see Boyan’s Ted Talk about The Ocean Cleanup here.

 

Day 34: Benjamin Lundy

Benjamin Lundy (1789-1839) was a Quaker abolitionist born in Hardwick Township, New Jersey. From 1808-1812 he lived at Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia), where he was an apprentice to a saddler. Wheeling was an important headquarters of the interstate slave trade, and Lundy, troubled by the iniquity of slavery, determined to devote his life to the cause of abolition.

His apprenticeship completed, he married, and, settling in Saint Clairsville, Ohio, soonLundy built up a profitable business. There, in 1815, he organized an anti-slavery association, known as the Union Humane Society, which quickly grew to more than 500, and he assisted Charles Osborne in editing the Philanthropist. In 1819-1820, he went to St. Louis, Missouri and took an active part in the slavery controversy. In 1821 he founded an anti-slavery paper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, at Mount Pleasant, Ohio. This periodical was published successively in Ohio, Tennessee, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania, although as times sporadically when he traveled and spoke out against slavery. He is said to be the first to deliver anti-slavery lectures in the US.

When the paper was located in Baltimore (1829-1830), Lundy was assisted in editing by William Lloyd Garrison. The two were alike in their hostility to slavery, but Garrison was an advocate of immediate emancipation on the soil, while Lundy was committed to schemes of colonization abroad. Within a few months, while Lundy was absent in Mexico, Garrison published extremely radical articles demanding immediate emancipation and asserting that the domestic slave trade was as piratical as the foreign. Garrison was brought to trial for criminal libel, fined, and imprisoned. This occurrence so reduced the circulation of the Genius that a friendly dissolution of partnership between Lundy and Garrison took place. It also raised up such a hostile spirit in Baltimore that Lundy shortly afterwards moved the paper to Washington, D.C., where, after some years, it failed.

Besides traveling through many states of the United States to deliver anti-slavery lectures, Lundy visited Haiti twice, in 1825 and 1829; the Wilberforce Colony of freedmen and refugee slaves in Canada in 1830-1831; and Texas, in 1832 and again in 1833; all these visits being made, in part, to find a suitable place outside the United States to which emancipated slaves might be sent. Between 1820 and 1830, according to a statement made by Lundy himself, he traveled “more than 5000 miles on foot and 20,000 in other ways, visited 19 states of the Union, and held more than 200 public meetings.” He was bitterly denounced by slaveholders and also by such non-slaveholders as disapproved of all anti-slavery agitation, and in January 1827 he was assaulted and seriously injured by a slave-trader, Austin Woolfolk, whom he had severely criticized in his paper.

In 1836-1838 Lundy edited in Philadelphia a new anti-slavery weekly, The National Enquirer, which he had founded, and which under the editorship of John G. Whittier, Lundy’s successor, became The Pennsylvania Freeman. In 1838 Lundy moved to Lowell, Illinois, where he printed several copies of the re-established Genius of Universal Emancipation. There he died.

In honor of his spirit for change that was reflected through his patience and perseverance, here are his sentiments about the purpose of his work: “The end and aim of this publication is the gradual, though total, abolition of slavery in the United States of America.”

Day 33: St. Clare of Assisi

Born Chiara Offreduccio, St. Clare (1194-1253) was one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi. Her father, Favorino Sciffi, was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family, owning a palace in Assisi and a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. Her mother, Ortolana, also belonged to a noble family and was a very devout woman who had taken pilgrimages to as far as the Holy Land. (Ortolona also later joined the monastic order started by St. Clare).

As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. As was the custom of the times, it is assumed that she was to be married but, at 18 years of age, she first heard Francis preaching a Lenten service, and her life was changed. She asked Francis to help her live in the manner of the Gospel and on Palm Sunday of that year, she left her father’s house and proceeds to meet Francis. She had her hair cut and exchanged her rich gown for a plain robe and veil.

Saint_Clare_of_AssisiFrancis placed Clare in a convent of Benedictine nuns. When her father attempted to force her to return home, she clung to the alter, professing that she would have no other husband but Jesus Christ. Clare then went to a more remote Benedictine monastery (soon joined by her sister) and remained there until a dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near Assisi. This became the center of Clare’s new order, at first known as “Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano”, now known as the Order of St. Clare. During her lifetime, this order remained devoutly committed to a life of poverty, work and prayer, while also promoting the growth of Francis’s order, as she viewed him as a spiritual father figure. She often had to resist the orders of popes and church leaders attempting to impose rules on her order that might water down the radical commitment to corporate poverty. It is said that she also thwarted an impending plunder by the army of Frederick II in 1224 by going out to meet them with the Blessed Sacrament on her hands, causing the army to mysteriously flee the city.

Clare died at the age of 59 and was canonized three years later.  For today, take a moment to reflect on her words about love: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.”

Day 31: Dr. Hawa Abdi

Dr. Hawa Abdi is a human rights activist and physician in Somalia. She was born in Mogadishu in 1947. After her mother died when she was 12, she took on family chores as he eldest child. Her father was an educated professional. Abdi was able to continue her schooling, attending local elementary school and intermediate and secondary academies. In 1964 she received a scholarship from the Women’s Committee of the Soviet Union, allowing her to study at a Kiev institution. In 1972, a year after graduating, she began law studies at Somali National University.  The next year, she got married and in 1975 gave birth to her first child. She would practice medicine in the morning and work towards her law degree in her spare time, which she got in 1979.

Dr.Abdi

Dr. Abdi, with daughters  Dr. Deqo Adan and Dr. Amina Adan

In 1983, Abdi opened the Rural Health Development Organisation (RHDO) on family-owned land. The one-room clinic offering free obstetrician services evolved into a 400-bed hospital. During the Somali civil war in the 1990’s, Abdi stayed in the region at the behest of her grandmother to continue to assist the vulnerable. She subsequently established a new clinic and school for the displaced and orphans. In 2005, rebels made attempts to shut down her clinic.  She stood her ground and the rebels left, with the help of pressure from local residents, the UN and other advocacy groups. In 2012, militants again stormed the clinic, temporarily shutting it down until their eventual departure.

In 2007, RHDO was renamed the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) which is now run by her and her two physician daughters. The DHAF compound includes a hospital, school and nutrition center that provides shelter and care to mostly women and children. Since its founding, it has served an estimated 2 million people, all free of charge. Several fishing and agricultural projects are also run on the compound to instill self-sufficiency.  Funding for this work comes from Somali ex-pats as well as the international donor community.  For her efforts on women’s rights and women’s health, she has received numerous recognitions including the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (2014), Hiraan Online’s Person of the Year (2007), and, along with her daughters, among the list of 2010 Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.” She was also nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, and received BET’s Social Humanitarian Award.

For today, take a moment to read about the critical moment in Abdi’s life that has led her to making this amazing impact in the world: “When I decided to become a doctor, I was very, very young, when my mother was pregnant with her seventh child, and she was feeling terrible pain, and I did not know how to help her. And my mother died in front of my eyes, without knowing why, which diagnosis. So I decided to be a doctor.”