We are so happy to introduce to you the writer of today’s Guest Post! Brandy McCray has been volunteering with Peace Heroes for the past year and a half and has brought such valuable perspective and insight to our team. Thank you, Brandy, for sharing this part of your story with us.
Peace Heroes came into my life through a whirlwind of circumstances that led me to partner with the Woodland Star School in Kenya, one of the program’s pilot schools. During that time, I was introduced to Peace Heroes and both Kirsten and Elie, and was knocked off my feet by the program. It was beautifully written, the stories were nearly all new to me, and I felt like a child learning again even though I have been in the education field for a decade. I felt within me a new sense emerging of what it meant to serve my community and to act as a peacemaker. The boldness and courage of people who had faced the impossible but still created a new way forward inspired and encouraged me with every story I read. I bought story books for my children of many of the Peace Heroes I had read about and did activities with them at home. The stories began to live within me and I found myself sharing them with anyone who would listen.
I grew up with access only to the stories of peace offered in the traditional schooling system—a school system in the Deep South of the United States where even to this day a school still carries the name of a wealthy slave trader that owned the plantation the school is built upon. I live and work in Memphis, Tennessee. I often sit at a cafe directly across from the National Civil Rights Museum, which was built within the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. One of the most famous Peace Heroes of our lifetime marched the same streets I walk, and gave his life in the same city where I live. His story was the one most often told throughout my education. His legacy is powerful, but the way his story was framed focused mostly on the way it ended: in tragedy and violence.
It didn’t occur to me till I started engaging with Peace Heroes that focusing on that part of his story takes away from the true legacy of Dr. King’s life and work. Why do schools in the U.S. tend to focus on the way Dr. King died instead of how he lived? Is tragedy and violence the only ending we want our children to imagine is possible in the pursuit of peace and justice? What my education failed to show me was Dr. King’s tremendous legacy around the stunning power of nonviolent action and its ability to bring down systems of injustice and open the door to social transformation.
But my education also failed me in another way: apart from Dr. King’s story, no one ever took the time to tell us other stories of Peace Heroes from around the globe, especially those of women and women of color who united entire communities to stop violence, to change—very literally—the earth beneath their feet as they sought to undo systems of oppression and injustice. What if more of these stories were told in schools across the U.S. today? Would more people step into action if they knew that many brave souls from all over the world have gone before them and made a way for peace and justice?
I believe so. I’ve already begun to see the effects of this in the educational nonprofit where I work and where I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories of Peace Heroes to large groups of young adults who have chosen to give a year of service to students in under-resourced urban schools. Many of our service members are young women of color. They are always looking for content that will connect with the mostly Black American students that make up the population of students we serve. When I shared the stories of Leymah Gbowee (from Liberia) and Wangari Maathai (from Kenya) with a group of 50 young adults, many were shocked that they hadn’t heard these stories before. One service member, after hearing me tell Leymah Gbowee’s story, went on to teach it in many small group lessons for middle school students. She shared how powerful it was for her students to see people who look like them and face similar difficulties, and yet were empowered to be agents of change in their community, bringing about an end to violence, injustice, and oppression.
I am well aware that many Peace Heroes faced tremendous threats, violence, and suffering, and many risked everything for their vision of peace. But they persevered because they saw upon the horizon of humanity a different future than the injustice, suffering, and terror that lay at their feet. They made a way for us to imagine this new horizon and experience it together with them. Their stories are so valuable because they give us a vision for how we ourselves can be agents of change, just like them. But without their stories being shared with children and adults, how can we begin to imagine a world of peace? I believe it is more necessary now than ever to bring these stories into the education system in the U.S (and the world!).
Currently Peace Heroes has around 50 stories in different stages of development. I know they need our support to bring those stories to the world and to help advocate for peace education as an educational right of children all over the world. “If we don’t teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.” Will you join this movement to empower a new generation of Peace Heroes?