Nobel Peace laureate brings message to WMU

Contact: Erin Flynn
A photo of Twakkol Karman.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman will speak at the Great Lakes PeaceJam Spring Youth Conference.

Update 3/11/20: Out of an abundance of caution, following the University’s decision to cancel large events on campus to reduce risk related to COVID-19, the Great Lakes PeaceJam’s Spring Youth Conference has been postponed.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—She shined a light on government corruption and human rights abuses in Yemen, sparking a reform movement across the Middle East and Northern Africa. Now, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman will share her story at Western Michigan University.

A journalist and advocate for justice, Karman's public address, "Speak Truth to Power," is planned for Friday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in WMU's Schneider Hall. A question and answer session will follow. Admission is free for students. A donation of $15 per person is suggested for other guests. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

The event kicks off the Great Lakes PeaceJam Spring Youth Conference weekend, which runs through Sunday, March 22, and brings together more than 300 elementary, middle, high school and college-age students from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

"The goal of PeaceJam is to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills and wisdom they embody," says Todd Bannon, executive director of the Great Lakes chapter, reiterating the PeaceJam Foundation's global mission.

Several WMU students have active roles in the conference, from planning, recruitment and training to working as mentors to younger students. Business students in a service-learning course also complete dozens of volunteer hours.

"Our conference energizes students to return to their communities and change their world in a positive way," Bannon says. "We are creating leaders—not just for the future, but for today."

An Advocate for Justice

Karman grew up in a politically tumultuous country and witnessed the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. A journalist by profession and human rights activist by nature, she responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen by mobilizing others and reporting on injustices.

Tawakkol Karman delivers a speech at a podium.

Karman speaks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

In 2007, Karman began organizing weekly protests in Yemen's capitol targeting systemic government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and other forms of social and legal injustice. The weekly protests continued until 2011, when Karman mobilized protestors to support the Arab Spring—a movement calling for government reform across the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Karman won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011—the first Arab woman and second Muslim to do so. She continues to support female journalists and rally against government corruption and injustice in Yemen. She is also a member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and works with her sister Laureates to support grassroots women’s organizations and movements around the world. Karman has been a member of PeaceJam since 2017.

"Our students will become inspired by a woman who had the courage to stand up to a corrupt government," says Bannon. "They will learn that it doesn't matter what your background is or how old you are; you can make a positive difference in the world."

Over the past several months, young people from across the Great Lakes have met in clubs and classrooms, exploring issues of violence and prejudice and studying the life and work of Tawakkol Karman as a role model for becoming civically engaged to foster peace and justice in the world.

In addition to participating in curriculum and attending the conference, PeaceJam participants will present projects to Karman involving a local or global they've identified and attempted to address through service.

About PeaceJam

Great Lakes PeaceJam is an affiliate of the international PeaceJam organization, which is a global leader in developing engaged, informed and compassionate young leaders. Its mission is to empower disenfranchised and at-risk youth to generate positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of more than a dozen Nobel Peace Laureates who directly work with PeaceJam.

The affiliate's annual conference is one component of its year-round programming for the region's K-12 students, college students and incarcerated youth in a four-state region.

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