Meeting Leymah Gbowee: This Writer’s Wish

I’m not sure where I would take one of the most awe-inspiring social workers of our time, Leymah Gbowee, for lunch. As a relatively new social worker interested in both children’s/women’s issues and international (particularly African) affairs, I would be astounded to even get the opportunity to see her, let alone eat lunch and have a full-on conversation with her. The restaurant would be pretty much the least of my concerns (though I’d bet some would argue it should be one of my main concerns). I’d rather focus on what exactly we’d talk about.

Leymah Gbowee is a-ma-zing. Have you ever seen Pray the Devil Back to Hell? That’s her in there. She’s a social worker who helped organize and lead a women’s peaceful protest in Liberia back in the early 2000s as a means to end the country’s second civil war. This protest also resulted in the deposition of  the then-president Charles Taylor, who, besides wreaking havoc in his own country of Liberia, was found guilty of war crimes in Sierra Leone last year.

Leymah Gbowee inspires me because she defined her own role in bringing about positive change in a nonviolent way during an incredibly violent time. She saw the power she, as a woman, had in a male-dominated society, and so effectively wielded that power that she and her women colleagues were able to bring about peace talks to end a civil war. She not only convinced other women to protest with her, but she also helped facilitate the cooperation and camaraderie of Christian and Muslim women for the cause. In a world that often turns to violence to solve problems of violence, she and her fellow women protesters sat in white tees, refused sex, and peacefully brought change.

I wonder what Ms. Gbowee would find interesting to eat here in Minnesota. I could show her some of our African-influenced restaurants, such as Blue Nile, T’s Place, this African deli place in Brooklyn Park (Center?), maybe even the Global Market’s Safari restaurant or the Afro Deli on the West Bank of campus. Or maybe she’d want to know some non- African-oriented restaurants that I enjoy, like India Palace in Roseville or Sen Yai Sen Lek in Minneapolis.

Wherever we eat, I’d like to hear from her firsthand what was going on with her personally, in her head, while she was planning this massive peace movement. I want to hear about her life influencers, those forces and people that/who brought her to that particular point in her life where she was able to organize such an event. I want to learn about her ideas for social change and what social justice means in her eyes. As a social worker, I want to understand how her social work perspective and background have impacted her life decisions and goals.

In essence, I want to learn from her, to really understand what made her stand up and take action when others had failed, despite the political and cultural environment within which she was immersed. I have my own dreams of making positive change in a rather socially unjust world. I feel she might have some input for me.

You know what? Since this is my imagination, I believe she’d actually appreciate a home-cooked meal. I think I’ll invite her to my home, provide some tea and bread, and serve dengu and chapati (as a salute to my Kenyan family) and crock pot pot roast with potatoes and carrots (for my Minnesotan side). We’ll finish with some walnut potica that I magically imported from Up North at the last minute, because I sure can’t make it myself.

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