Peace is Loud is a nonprofit organization providing a creative approach to conflict prevention, gender equality and peacebuilding through media and live events. Our cross-media projects, speakers bureau and social action campaigns highlight the voices of women peace leaders and underline the crucial importance of women’s voices in peacebuilding efforts. One of the women on our speakers bureau, storytelling and human rights activist Clemantine Wamariya, was recently invited to speak at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
Do the labels used to describe you really sum up the whole of who you are, all you’ve lived through, and where you’ll go from here?
In an inspiring talk at the Virginia Holocaust Museum this past November, Peace is Loud speaker Clemantine Wamariya challenged her audience to think past the labels ascribed to genocide survivors and to refugees, and to examine how words we use to describe ourselves and others can isolate and divide, instead of cultivating compassion and empathy.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum was co-founded in 1997 by one of Richmond’s youngest Holocaust survivors, Jay Ipson, to promote tolerance through education. Clemantine was invited to speak at the museum as part of its “I Witnessed History” series to tell her personal story of surviving the Rwandan genocide and separation from her family as a young child, and her journey from refugee camps across Africa to the suburbs of Chicago, the Oprah Winfrey show, the classrooms of Yale University, and performance venues worldwide as a public speaker.
Throughout her life and travels, she was struck by how the divisions between people, whether rooted in gender, ethnicity, religion, race or socioeconomic status, led people to think of those different than them as being constrained to sets of stereotypes and misconceptions. In her talk, You are Not Your Labels, Clemantine encouraged her audience to look past these labels to seek out individuals’ talents, strengths and potential.
“We are not the labels people try to put us under,” she told the crowd. “We are not our stuff; we are not our lack of stuff. We are not who people define us to be, either. We are a core of beautiful, powerful humans who contribute value to our lives and others’ lives. Period.”
Clematine’s talk was especially timely given the current global spotlight on Syrian refugees and whether or not they should be allowed to enter Western countries. Both Clemantine and the Virginia Holocaust Museum’s Executive Director, Waitman Beorn, spoke on the importance of cultivating compassion and kindness toward refugees: a truth that deserves to be repeated time and time again, until it is finally heard.