Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman inspires PeaceJam attendees to "Stand Out, Speak Up"

During her public talk to kick off the 2019 PeaceJam Southeast Conference, Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman reminded the audience that the task of achieving peace requires so much more than simply ending wars; it also requires ending oppression and injustice.

Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman kicks off the PeaceJam Southeast Conference weekend with a public talk on Friday.

Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman opens PeaceJam Southeast's
Conference weekend with a public talk on Friday evening.

The conference, themed, “Stand Up, Speak Out,” is an annual event hosted at FSU by the PeaceJam Southeast region. PeaceJam is an international education program built around Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who work personally with youth to pass on the spirit, skills, and wisdom they embody. At the annual PeaceJam Southeast conference, high school participants can come to FSU, learn valuable wisdom from Nobel Laureates, and develop their understanding further within small groups facilitated by FSU students.

This year’s conference featured Karman, known as “The Mother of the Revolution” for her nonviolent struggle for women’s safety and right to participate in Yemen’s peacebuilding work. In her talk at the opening of the conference, Karman focused on the idea that terrorism and dictatorship are two sides of the same coin. According to Karman, those in power often politically exploit terrorism for their own gain rather than trying earnestly to stop it, using fear tactics to sow racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Thus, as Karman urged the audience, we must be critical audiences of governments touting anti-terrorism efforts and must be cautious of instances in which “fighting terrorism” is a guise for oppressing civilians.

When asked by an audience member how to handle the struggle of advocating for something without much support, Karman responded emphatically to keep speaking up, saying, “If they didn’t listen to you today, they will listen to you tomorrow. And when they listen to you, they will follow you.”

Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman and PeaceJam Foundation executive director Kate Cumbo present Provost Sally McRorie (center) with the PeaceJam's inaugural Innovative Leadership Award.
Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman and PeaceJam Foundation
executive director Kate Cumbo present FSU Provost Sally McRorie (center)
with PeaceJam's inaugural Innovative Leadership Award.

Karman herself spoke up alone  for years before gaining a large following, and this experience taught her the value of sheer persistence in fighting for what one believes. “Don’t lose trust in the people,” Karman added, “one day they will be your hands.

At the event, Karman also presented Florida State University with PeaceJam’s inaugural Innovative Leadership Award for its outstanding PeaceJam student leadership program, which has hosted Nobel Peace Laureates at 10 annual Leadership Conferences, impacting almost 10,000 students. Because of this amazing success, the PeaceJam Foundation lauded Florida State’s program as a model across the United States and the world. A representative from the PeaceJam Foundation who presented the award along with Karman stated, “Students participating in PeaceJam at Florida State University are the most outstanding servant leaders we have seen in our 23 years as an organization. They embody a truly remarkable spirit of innovation, compassion, and dedication, the likes of which we have never seen.”

Throughout her talk, Karman emphasized the importance of values in the fight against injustice and reiterated her confidence that justice wins in the end.  According to Karman, corrupt leaders put their interests before their values, but in the end lose both; however, when people revolt for their freedom and democracy, they win.

—Kendall McDonald