Friday, April 29, 2016

Heroes You Should Know: Zoya Krakhmalnikova

How much are you willing to sacrifice for love?  This isn’t a question too many of us are forced to face in the safety and comfort of the United States.  But for Zoya Krakhmalnikova, a Soviet Dissident in the Soviet Union, it was 24/7.

From an early age she understood the risks involved in fighting for freedom, and speaking truth in the face of a tyrannical regime.  As a nine year-old she’d watched as her father was arrested during one of Joseph Stalin’s many purges in the Ukraine.  And after she completed her undergraduate and post-graduate studies at the Gorky Literary Institute, and become a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology, she could have played it safe.  And who would have blamed her for enjoying her hard-earned professional success as a writer, and wanting to preserve her scholarly standing along with her husband who was also an author and member of the Academy.

But in 1971, Zoya decided to be baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.  This public statement of faith immediately led to her being fired from her job and dismissed from the USSR Union of Soviet Writers.  Essentially she would no longer have any of her writing published in her country.

But she kept writing…and writing about subjects that would eventually land her in hot water again.  She began with a series of articles concerning Christianity in the Soviet Union which she sent to a contact outside the Soviet Union to publish.  Then she resurrected a pre-revolution journal Nadezhda (Hope), focusing on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and its role.  The journal which had been suppressed 60 years before by the Soviet hierarchy, was published in West Germany.  But before long it was being smuggled back into the Soviet Union. 

And when Zoya began writing about the “new martyrs’’ in the Soviet Union, she was arrested.  Encouraging Christianity and democracy was a crime for which she could have been executed.  But in a move designed to show itself as tolerant, the court sentenced her to “only” one year in the infamous KGB Lefortovo prison.  Secretly, though, they tacked on an additional exile of five years to a remote settlement near the Mongolian border.  Zoya was allowed one visit a month with her husband and daughter, but was prohibited from going to Church or having contact with a priest.

However, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power she was given the chance to “repent” of her sins against the State.  She refused but was still pardoned in 1987.  

Undaunted and fearless she would spend the last 21 years of her life as a pro-democracy activist, speaking out against totalitarianism and even publicly challenging her own Russian Orthodox Church to apologize for the ways it too collaborated with the Soviet authorities.

When one considers that an estimated 12-20 million Russian Christians alone who were put to death by the Soviets for their faith, Zoya Krakhmalnikova seems to have gotten off easy.  But ask yourself if you’d be willing to lose your career, good standing, freedom, material wealth, home, friends, spouse, and child for the cause of faith and freedom…or anything.  If you wouldn’t chose instead to play it safe, get by, compromise conscience for comfort?  That’s certainly the typical human response, and any reasonable person would understand if Zoya had chosen that path of least resistance.  

But she didn’t.   That’s the point.

Zoya Krakhmalnikova is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Peace Moms: Betty Williams and Maired Corrigan

On a sweltering afternoon in August 1976 Danny Lennon and John Chillingworth raced through the streets of Belfast.  They’d been identified by British police as Provisional Irish Republican Army members and were suspected of transporting guns.  At Finaghy Road North the police opened fire, killing Lennon the driver and sending the car careening onto the sidewalk.  It hit a mother, Anne Maguire, and her three children who were out shopping.  The eight year-old girl and her six week old brother were killed instantly, their 2 year-old brother died the next day.  Anne survived the tragic accident but would commit suicide four years later, unable to overcome her grief.

Maguire’s neighbor Betty Williams, who happened to be driving home at the same time and witnessed the horror, decided enough was enough.  She began gathering signatures of both Catholics and Protestants for a peace petition, and organized 200 women to march through Belfast to raise awareness for this latest effort at peace.  The march passed close to the home of Maired Corrigan, the sister of Anne Maguire, and Corrigan joined in.
And ‘Women for Peace’, a movement committed to ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland was born. 

Soon after the initial march a second march took place, and this time 10,000 Catholic and Protestant women made their way through Belfast again, this time to the graves of the three Maguire children.  The protesters were met with violence by IRA members on the route, who accused them of colluding with the British government.  The response of Williams and Corrigan…a third march the following week where more than 35,000 people participated. 

In contrast to the past, Williams and Corrigan put forth a platform that called for an end to violence in Northern Ireland not through violence, but re-education.  The organization, which soon changed its name to the more inclusive ‘Community for Peace People’ began publishing a newspaper, Peace by Peace, and providing bus service for families trying to visit loved ones in Belfast’s  jails.  And Williams and Corrigan spoke out, and traveled, and spoke out some more.
Their impact was so significant that in 1977 the two moms from Belfast were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2006 Williams and Corrigan joined with fellow Nobel Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu Tum (representing North and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa) to form the Nobel Women’s Initiative.  The goal of this initiative is to help support women's rights around the world.

Betty Williams and Maired Corrigan are heroes you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Heroes You Should Know: Tegla Loroupe

Tegla Loroupe grew up in a small Kenyan village roughly ten miles from her school. There was no school bus, and her family had no mode of transportation. So beginning at age seven, she would run there and back, without shoes. And in the process she figured out she was pretty good at distance running.
Because of her size (fully grown, now, she stands five feet and weighs 86 pounds), the Athletics Kenya (the Kenyan governing body for track and field) did not take her seriously until she won a national cross country event in 1988 at the age of 15. The next year she received her first pair of running shoes and began competing in international competitions.
Her father, who had four wives and 24 children, did not believe running was an appropriate pursuit for women, and wanted Tegla to be more domestic. But Tegla persevered.
In 1994 and 1998 she won the gold medal at the Goodwill Games in the 10,000 meters, and a bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in 1995 and 1999 at the same distance.
The United States met her up close when she won the New York City marathon in 1994 and 1995. In all, Loroupe has won 8 marathons around the world, and three world half-marathons. She has also held the world record for the women’s marathon, the world record for one hour running (where she covered 18, 340 meters), and at distances of 20, 25, and 30 kilometers.
But as passionate as she is about professional distance running, Loroupe has always been about more than just personal fame and money.
In 2003 she started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, with the motto “peace through sports.” Her foundation works to promote peace and economic development between under-served individuals and communities in Northern Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan. Through her reputation and leadership skills, Tegla’s foundation has built an orphanage in Kenya, and also established a series of “peace races.”
These 10K events, which started in 2006, have high ranking government officials running alongside thousands of warriors from rival tribes---and bonding through the experience.
In 2006, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations named Tegla a United Nations Ambassador of Sport, and in 2008 Oxfam named her Ambassador of Sport and Peace to Darfur.
Today, this world-class athlete and world-class human lives in Germany and Kenya, while continuing her humanitarian efforts around the world.
Tegla Loroupe is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Heroes You Should Know: Frederick Law Olmsted

As a young boy, Frederick Law Olmsted was curious about the Biblical figure John the Baptist, the prophet who reportedly ate locusts and wild honey.  So when he found a honey-locust tree Olmsted tried to eat one of its pods.  But instead of changing his interest when he found it inedible, young Frederick chose to plant a pod from the same tree and patiently nurture it into a sapling.  Such was the spirit of the man who would go on to shape the face of public spaces and recreation in America.

Although known primarily as a landscape architect, Olmsted was first a respected journalist who presented significant research he’d done on slavery in America.  He abhorred slavery on moral grounds but chose to attack it in a more objective way, arguing that slavery was bad for the Southern economy (the roughly 8,000 plantation owners hoarded the wealth), which in turn kept the vast majority of citizens in Southern states uneducated and illiterate (he reported that the South’s illiteracy rate was 30 times greater than in his home state of Connecticut).

His breakthrough moment as a landscape architect came when he won the international competition to design Central Park in Manhattan in 1858.  His winning design was the first he’d ever drawn and executed.

Beauty mattered to Olmsted.  He understood that it had the power to make society better, more humane, more integrated.  And combining beauty with public spaces brought people of different religions, cultures, and economic classes together in harmony.  Olmsted wanted equal access for all citizens to these “public” parks, which until then was a foreign concept.

An incredibly prolific designer, Olmsted’s commissions include such noteworthy spaces as the Capitol Grounds in Washington D.C., Niagara Falls State Park, the Universities of Stanford, Yale, Chicago, U.C. Berkeley, and Wellesley, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, the Mariposa Mining Estate in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the entire parks and parkway system in Louisville, Kentucky.

During the Civil War Olmsted served as the Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor the Red Cross, and personally recruited three regiments of African American soldiers in New York for the Union Army.

After the war he became a leader of the conservationist movement in the United States, and influenced the decision to designate Yosemite Valley as a public reserve as well as saving Niagara Falls from being industrialized for the use of electrical power plants. 

Colleague Daniel Burnham said of Olmsted, "An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views."

And this world is a more beautiful place in every way because of it.

Frederick Law Olmsted is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr Ross Porter.