Isabella County Human Rights Committee events shine the spotlight on peace, empathy, and justice

The world has struggled with peace in recent years. From reports of war crimes in Ukraine to news coverage of a deadly school shooting in suburban Detroit, it’s easy to feel like there’s little people in Isabella County can do to respond to the issues.

The Isabella County Human Rights Committee wants to help people feel empowered to make change.

One step toward that goal was hosting the Let Peace Reign event in Island Park on Sat., Sept. 17 to celebrate International Day of Peace, which landed on Wed., Sept 21 this year. 

Community members from all over the county came to join in the peace walk around the park and other activities that took place, such as arts and crafts, and a raffle. Food vendors were present, along with museums and libraries from around the area.

New this year was the Human Library, which asks people to serve as  “books.” Each book volunteers to share his or her personal story. Elizabeth Husbands, Chair of the Isabella County Human Rights Committee, says the committee invited people who spent their lives working for human rights serve as books. Instead of going to a library to read about activism, people at the Let Peace Reign had the opportunity to learn from activists themselves.

Mt. Pleasant Police Officer VanDyke and County Commissioner Steve Swaney carried the banner that lead the Peace Walk through Island Park during the 2022 event.(Photo courtesy of the Isabella County Human Rights Committee)Another committee member, Shelly Smith, says the Human Library is a way to connect with people’s stories. The goal is to build more empathy and to people treating each other better.

“Human rights is important and the international human rights organization uses this national day of peace to celebrate and to commemorate human rights, and as the Isabella County Human Rights Committee, we felt like it was only fitting that we do something around that too,” Husbands adds. 

While the primary goal of the event was to promote peace, it also served as a way to spread the word about the committee and its work throughout the community, Husbands says. 

Another visible project that the committee tackled was placing handicapped parking spaces downtown and building shelters at bus stops. While people may have seen the parking spots and shelters, they may not know what the Human Rights Committee helped secure those facilities or that committee members advocate for individuals.

“They don’t know that Isabella County Human Rights Committee is here to listen and to advocate for their rights,” Husbands says. “We can talk to the county commissioners on their behalf if they feel like they've been wronged.”

Smith joined the committee about two years ago and wanted to participate in the human rights movement here in Isabella County because she has always been interested in the topic and thought it was time to take action. 

“I appreciate that it's here in our community and wanted to serve in that capacity,” says Smith.

Dr. Maureen Eke joined the committee because she is a human rights scholar, activist and educator. Eke says she is committed to the preservation of human rights and human dignity in part because of her background. She grew up in Nigeria and experienced a civil war from 1967 to 1976 when she was a teenager.

“I am a survivor of genocide, of civil wars that my people did not anticipate, and my people were massacred. I am a survivor of genocide. I don't know how to think of myself outside of fighting for human rights,” Eke says. “I joined because I believed that I could contribute to making this county a peaceful, welcoming, and inclusive place where people's rights are protected and their humanity and dignity are preserved.”

Eke compared her experience in Nigeria what is happening right now in Ukraine. 

“We woke up one morning and we are being bombed,” Eke says. “We couldn't go to school. They bombed villages, they bombed schools, they bombed hospitals, they started using food as a weapon of war, communities were attacked, they invaded our communities, raped women raped young girls, killed us and burned down places.”

The Let Peace Reign provided Isabella County with an opportunity to talk and think about peace locally.

“I think we should all be interested in this event because it creates an opportunity for us as a community to come together for a few hours and do nothing but think about how we can cultivate peace in our community, be at peace with one another and contemplate our own contributions to making peace possible,” Eke says. 

More information about the Isabella County Human Rights Committee and its activities is available on Facebook.

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Read more articles by Addy Wachter.

Addy Wachter is a Grand Haven resident who is currently a student at Central Michigan University. She plans to graduate during the summer of 2023 with a major in photojournalism and a minor in cultural and global studies. Along with working with Epicenter, she is a photographer and writer at Central Michigan Life newspaper who enjoys traveling and exploring new places in her spare time, always taking her camera with her wherever she goes.