I recently had the honor of speaking in Portland Oregon at the Rwandan Genocide Remembrance Day at Lewis & Clark College. The Pacific Northwest Rwanda Association sponsored this important event. Second Counselor Andrew Tusabe from the Rwandan Embassy in Washington DC was one of the speakers who talked about the challenges and success that Rwanda is having in their country.
I am always humbled when asked to speak at such an event. But I have learned we must each do our part no matter how small we believe it is. Following is the text of my speech.
We are more alike than we are different.
Grief is universal; laughter connects people and the decision to change the world lies within each of us.
If you wonder why a mazungu is speaking today, you are not alone. I wonder myself. But I am. And so I’ll share what I know – which I know is nothing compared to what many of you know.
I am here to commemorate and honor the people of Rwanda. Those of you who are here today, and to remember those innocents who were killed, through no fault of their own. Today, we honor those who suffered or died, more by our action than our grief.
I just returned from my 7th trip to Rwanda in less than five years. I pay for these trips myself so if you ever consider donating to Itafari, know you’re not paying for my seat on the plane!
If you don’t know my story, I went to Rwanda because one woman asked me to come and speak about hope. What do I know? I know what hope can look like. I know that healing can come over time. That when we lose someone we love, we can choose to never let their goodness die if we choose to focus on the difference they made while they were here.
Rwanda has changed tremendously in the five years since I’ve been traveling there. There’s tremendous progress, but a huge amount that’s left to be done. I was concerned on my last trip because the night before I was leaving, three grenades went off simultaneously in the city. More innocent people were killed. And the terrorists (my word) accomplished their goal: to make people afraid. And there have been more grenade attacks since. So what can you or I do about it? We continue on. We don’t become overwhelmed or intimidated by cowards who use violence to speak, rather than words.
You may not be able, willing or interested in getting involved in the politics of your country. I can’t blame you! I’m not interested in becoming involved in the politics of this country. But how you or I live our lives speaks volumes of what we truly believe.
You’re here today. Some of you because you want to be. Some of you may feel you should be here. But you’re here. And this unique group of people will never be gathered again. We represent different experiences, different attitudes, different goals, different hopes, and different dreams.
We have different colors of skin, are of different faiths or of no faith at all. We are men and women, boys and girls, young and old. We have vastly different experiences. Some of us want to talk about what is possible, others want to be silent. Some have hope, some have lost all hope. But what if who we are as a group, is just the group we need to be?
The role John and I play here today is a small one. I’m honored as always to be asked to speak. I’m so inadequate for this job, but I do it anyway. So know that I know I don’t know much. But I’m passionate about making a difference in the world and the part of the world that I care to make my difference is Rwanda.
Some of the finest people I’ve ever met in the world are from Rwanda. Rwanda has changed my life. And so I do what I can to pay that forward. To change lives as mine has been changed.
I’d like to conclude with the following thoughts: your attitude and words have power. Choose (and use) them wisely. Don’t wait until you’re perfect to reach your goals and dreams. Never stop believing in the goodness that is in the world. Be vigilant in speaking out or taking action against those who would choose to tear down what is good. Disagree with courage and respect. Keep hold of your emotions so that you can be heard. Know that forgiveness is for your soul, not the soul of the one that caused you or a loved one harm. To find peace within yourself is the greatest gift you bring to the world.
Murakoze cyane and “kora ibyiza buri munsi” –
in Kinyarwanda, “do good every day”
To read more about our work in Rwanda please go to Itafari Foundation.