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The Courage We Need

September 19, 2018

Zeid Ra'ad Hussein finished his term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 1, 2018. Before he stepped down, he penned an op-ed for The Economist, "Grassroots Leaders Provide the Best Hope for a Troubled World." In the article, he gave us an overview of the state of international human rights, and the primary missing ingredient he believes we need to address human rights violations. We need courageous political leaders. Hussein says "courage is self-sacrificing, nonviolent, modest and based on universal principles -- and immensely powerful." It is also very rare to see courageous leadership these days. Our most popular example of courageous leaders are the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their leadership created great change, yet came with great cost. Perhaps this is why we see such a dearth of courageous leaders today; the cost of courage is too great for many of our political leaders. 

Mr. Hussein's article stirred something within me. I reflected on the nature of courageous leadership, and how it is an often promised quality but rarely demonstrated or delivered in reality. In the landscape of division and prescribed party lines, our leaders are often forced to contort and compromise their agendas in order to please some of their constituency without effectively serving all of their constituency. 

Is there a place anymore for leaders, stakeholders and community members who are able to envision the transformation our society needs? Until we arrive at this place, our attempts to address #MeToo, racial injustice, gender identity bias -- and all the intersecting inequities that compound oppression -- will be reduced to ineffective strategies and a shallow means to an end. Frankly, if we are not working towards the transformation of our communities, then we become unwitting participants in the ongoing malformation of our communities. 

My friends, we need leaders who are courageous enough to be the vanguard of transformational community solutions now, and we do not need to wait for courage to show up in someone else. Mr. Hussein points to the extraordinary leadership he found in activists, community organizers, and justice advocates. He lifts up regular people who care about their communities, vulnerable children, forgotten prisoners and missing mothers. He declares:

"My hope lies in a set of people not widely known internationally, but familiar to those in the human rights community. Unlike the self-promoters—the elected xenophobes and charlatans—these people do have courage. They have no state power to hide behind: instead, they step forward. They are the leaders of communities and social movements, big and small, who are willing to forfeit everything—including their lives—in defence of human rights. Their valour is unalloyed; it is selfless. There is no discretion or weakness here. They represent the best of us..." Ours is the work of the courageous. Our courage to love, to rise up, stand up and show up even when it is uncomfortable, unappreciated or unpopular will help everyone come closer to the justice and peace we seek.  Friday, September 21, is the UN's recognition of International Peace Day. May we remember to lift up the courageous warriors for peace all around the world, in our communities, and the courageous warrior for peace that is within you. 

In Solidarity with you, 

Rev. Doris K. Dalton Executive Director, MLK Institute for Nonviolence

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