members of ICAP with officials from Blossomdale mayor's department

 

Sept. 2009: The Power of One Woman

Diane Wilson, director of Ste. Genevieve Center for the Arts

   On Sept. 19, Betty Williams, a 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate and ICAP Advisory Board member, told a rapt audience of more than 700 how one individual can make a difference for peace. Ms. Williams, adorned with a white lei, received a standing ovation as she took the podium at the SGI-USA Hawaii Culture Center. She began her talk by having attendees stand and hug the people next to them. “Arms are for hugging,” she said, “not killing.”

    Ms. Williams, founder of World Center of Compassion for Children International, had been invited to speak as part of the state’s third annual Peace Day Hawaii: Uniting With Aloha.

public viewing the photographic art of Dr. Ikeda

   In 2007, Hawaii became the first state to officially recognize Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace. Every year on this date, the United Nations calls on individuals, communities, nations and governments to underscore efforts to promote peace. In Hawaii, the SGI-USA youth-sponsored Victory Over Violence peace program was a partner in this year’s activities.

   Ms. Williams spoke of how she was a receptionist and mother of two, when, on August 10, 1976, she watched helplessly as a car tore down a street in Belfast and plowed into a woman and her three children. The driver, who was slumped dead over the wheel, had been a victim of the violence inflicted by Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups.

youth viewing the photographic art of Dr. Ikeda

   Cradling one of the woman’s dying children in her arms, Ms. Williams decided she’d had enough. The following day, after her initial shock wore off, she went into Provisional Irish Republican Army territory to bang on doors and plead with other women to sign her homemade petition for peace.Hundreds of ordinary women took to the streets that day and collected 6,000 signatures. Ms. Williams called the local newspapers and the national The Irish News, which wrote about the petition. This led to a BBC interview with Ms. Williams, during which she issued a call for any woman who felt as she did to join her in a rally the following night at the spot where the children died. To her amazement, buses rolled in filled with Protestant and Catholic women, who ran into one another’s arms. Defying threats of violence, some 10,000 women came together that night to cry out for an end to the violence.

Alderman Kline next to a photograph by Dr. Ikeda

   Ms. Williams helped organize subsequent marches that drew 35,000, then 40,000 and finally 250,000 women and men who longed to stop the violence in their country. Ms. Williams today continues to be a strong proponent of peace, advocating on behalf of the world’s children.

   Although her remarks carried a serious message, Ms. Williams entertained the audience with lighthearted stories, as well. Recounting how once when her granddaughter had become fed up with being bullied in school she dumped her yogurt all over the bully’s head. “I thought it was just lovely, but her mother didn’t think so,” said Ms. Williams, drawing laughter from the audience.

Alderman Kline next to a photograph by Dr. Ikeda

   She then turned her attention to her foundation, World Centers of Compassion for Children International, which seeks to create a strong political voice for children who live in areas affected by war, hunger, and social, economic and political upheaval. “We should never forget the little people,” she said. Ms. Williams has created a lasting achievement, having woven a tapestry made up of the hearts and minds of women who were unwillingly at war and who stood together to make a change. They stand together still, as an example to humanity, that one individual can inspire and awaken others to the power of peacemaking.

   Betty Williams’ life calls to mind a passage from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Thanks to Dana Rosado and Hau’oli Busby for this news.)