Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Time for Change? President Obama on Indian Country and Native Nations

jkauanuiBy J. Kehaulani Kauanui

U.S. President Barack Obama has been heralded for taking more actions in the first 30 days of his administration than some presidents have done in their entire service as president. In his first few days in office, Obama issued executive orders and presidential memoranda to direct the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, reduce the secrecy given to presidential records, order the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention camp, change procedures to promote disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, and reverse President Bush’s ban on federal funding to foreign establishments that allow abortions. By February, he signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus package, declared combat operations will end in Iraq within 18 months, and lifted of restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem-cell studies.

However, on Feb. 6, 2009, Obama’s administration also registered its retrograde position on a significant Indian preference case, despite promises to include more Native Americans in the federal government. As reported on Indianz.com, the Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal of a decision that backed a broad Indian preference policy at the Department of the Interior. The Obama administration’s appeal is in line with both the Reagan administration and the Bush administration, which had restricted the Indian preference policy at the U.S. Department of the Interior. This meant that American Indians and Alaska Natives were not given first consideration for several hundred jobs under the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs or within the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. Under the restrictive policy, according to court documents, only 17 out of 550 positions at the agency were covered by Indian preference. In March 2008, Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan rejected the limited views of these past administrations and determined that Indian preference applies to all posts that “directly and primarily” relate to Indian programs. The judge’s final ruling from December 2008 is what the new administration said it will appeal.

The principle of Indian preference did not emerge as an affirmative action policy to address historical exclusions based on race; instead, it is grounded in the Indian Reorganization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1934. Section 12 states that qualified Indian employees will be given preference for positions at the “Indian Office, in the administration of functions or services affecting any Indian tribe.” Indian preferences were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535 (1974), a legal case about the constitutionality of hiring preferences given to Indians within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to the court, the purpose of the preference is to give “Indians a greater participation in their own self-government; to further the government’s trust obligation toward the Indian tribes; and to reduce the negative effect of having non-Indians administer matters that affect Indian tribal life.”

Many people throughout Indian Country who worked on Obama’s campaign understandably feel betrayed. How can the president reconcile his stated commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship when his administration seems bent on appealing the ruling on Indian preferences? It seems Obama’s administration is sending a signal that it does not trust Native people to manage their own affairs.

The case of Eloise Cobell speaks too well to the legacy of the mismanagement of Indian affairs. She is the lead plaintiff in a case with approximately 500,000 other Indian plaintiffs in the long-running Indian trust mismanagement suit against the Department of the Interior.  Cobell recently expressed her disappointment with the Obama administration, as reported by Rob Capriccioso in Indian Country Today earlier this week. She is dismayed by the approach to the case taken by Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior. In the case, which was first filed in 1996, the plaintiffs alleged mismanagement of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior for Indian trustees since 1887. The case has gone through numerous appeals and will be heard before a Washington, D.C., circuit appellate court May 11, 2009. As Capriccioso reported, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled in August that Indian account holders deserved $455.6 million for 121 years of trust mismanagement — a figure less than the total amount spent by Congress and the federal government over the past decades trying to fix the trust management system.

Despite Cobell’s calls for a settlement, neither Salazar, nor anyone else from the Obama administration has contacted her. No wonder she is increasingly skeptical of the promise of “change” for Indian country the Obama administration promised. And yet, during his campaign Obama declared, “We’re going to end nearly a century of mismanagement of the Indian trusts. We’re going to work together to settle unresolved cases, figure out how the trusts ought to operate and make sure that they’re being managed responsibly – today, tomorrow and always.” He delivered this message to the National Congress of American Indians in October 2008 by video teleconference, and the transcript was later published as an opinion piece in Indian Country Today.

Obama committed himself to “a full partnership” with Native nations. He even went so far as to pronounce, “Indian nations have never asked much of the United States – only for what was promised by the treaty obligations made to their forebears. So let me be absolutely clear – I believe treaty commitments are paramount law, and I will fulfill those commitments as president of the United States.”

Let us hold Obama to his promise. Although Obama has selected several Native individuals for key posts in his administration, they do not come close to “a full partnership,” and are undercut by his administration’s other actions with regard to Indian preferences and the long history of trust abuses by the U.S. government as they have manifest through the Interior and every other governmental institution. We simply must assert our political will to ensure that “change” becomes more than mere political rhetoric.

Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the producer and host of a public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,”on WESU, Middletown, Conn., which is syndicated on several Pacifica affiliate-stations and and archived online.   She is the author of, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity, (Duke University Press, 2008). Kauanui serves on the Advisory Board for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

‘His Genius Could Not Be Denied’

In Memoriam: Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)

‘His Genius Could Not Be Denied’

 

By Hilary Hurd Anyaso

 

“Warm, generous, compassionate, a giant among American historians,” is how one University of Chicago colleague of Dr. John Hope Franklin remembers him.

 

Dr. Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus at UChicago, where Franklin chaired the history department, said in a statement, “John Hope enjoyed people, and people enjoyed John Hope. Everything he did, from his cooking to his orchid growing, was extraordinary. Lucky indeed it was to know him and be put in touch with the energies and spirit of a great man.”

 

Ailing for some time, Franklin, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, died yesterday of congestive heart failure at the age of 94 in Durham, N.C.

 

Called “a towering historian” by Duke University President Richard Brodhead, Franklin’s scholarship influenced countless scholars and students, and his humble, unassuming nature touched everyone he came in contact with.

 

“If you’re very fortunate, you get a chance to meet and get to know a person like Dr. Franklin. I always heard that the truly great people are the most approachable and nice; he exemplified that,” says Frank Matthews, co-founder of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education magazine, who first met Franklin 25 years ago. “The amount of information that he accumulated and retained was truly astounding. His genius could not be denied.”

 

So impressed with Franklin’s accomplishments as well as his character, Cox, Matthews and Associates, which publishes Diverse, established the John Hope Franklin Awards in 2004 to honor those who have demonstrated the highest commitment to access and excellence in American education. Recipients have included Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Maya Angelou and fellow historian Dr. David Levering-Lewis.

 

“I can’t think of another person in the academy who was more deserving of having an award named after them than John Hope Franklin,” says Matthews. “He documented our history in a way that I don’t think can ever be replicated.”

 

Franklin’s scholarship is said to have increased the nation’s understanding and knowledge of African-Americans in its history. A prolific writer, Franklin’s numerous publications include the best-seller From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South and most recently Mirror to America, which chronicles his life.

 

“His book, From Slavery to Freedom, remains a vital classic and primer as an introduction to African-American history,” says Dr. Peniel Joseph, associate professor of Africana Studies at Brandeis University. “His large corpus of scholarship and civic activism promoting diversity in the academy leaves a monumental legacy for other scholars to follow. Dr. Franklin was that rare combination of exemplary scholar and engaged citizen who sought to promote history and multiculturalism to a larger public.”

 

A native of Oklahoma, Franklin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University, where he would meet his wife Aurelia. He would go on to earn a master’s and doctorate in history from Harvard University. Franklin taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956 he went to Brooklyn College where he would become the first Black historian to assume full professorship at a traditionally White institution. He also served as chairman of the Department of History. In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. At Chicago, he was the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982, when he became Professor Emeritus.

 

Franklin had long been a witness to and active participant in many historic events. From assisting Thurgood Marshall in his preparation for arguing Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to heading former President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race in 1997, Franklin was quoted in Emerge magazine in 1994 as saying, “I think knowing one’s history leads one to act in a more enlightened fashion. I can not imagine how knowing one’s history would not urge one to be an activist.”


In 2006, USA Today quoted Franklin expressing disappointment that to date there was no national monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Diverse’s Matthews says he’s glad Franklin lived long enough to see the election of the new president. During an interview with Duke University television last fall, Franklin said Barack Obama’s election was “one of the most, if not the most, historic moment in this country’s history.” He said he knew “it would come sooner or later.”

 

Franklin’s contributions have been acknowledged with numerous awards and more than 130 honorary degrees. He treasured his students and the role of teacher.

 

Dr. Yohuru Williams, a history professor at Fairfield University and vice president for History Education at the American Institute for History Education, had the opportunity to meet Franklin in 1994 for the taping of a PBS special in his honor.

 

“He sat around with the mixed group of graduate and undergraduate students after the taping for nearly an hour answering questions and offering suggestions on our work,” recalls Williams. “He was a master teacher and his presence, guidance and scholarship will sorely be missed.”

 

To pay tribute, Duke University has created a Web page in Franklin’s honor. Visit www.duke.edu/johnhopefranklin

 

Changing the Conversation About HBCUs: YES WE CAN!

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingOver the past month, I have been to three meetings in which the leaders of HBCUs have come together to talk about these venerable institutions during this time of economic crisis.  I have come away from each of these meetings thinking, “There has got to be a way to change the discourse around these institutions — change the conversations that take place in the halls of policymakers and around the water cooler at newspaper offices.”  Over and over I hear those who have little to do with HBCUs  making gross generalizations, underestimating their contributions to society, and all but dismissing their need in a nation that clearly struggles with how to effectively educate African Americans and other students of color. 

After some thought, I am convinced that a change in the conversation will come as a result of partnerships between those on the inside of HBCUs and those on the outside who are advocates, researchers, funders, reporters, etc.  Of course, these partnerships need to be built on trust.  We all know of incidents in the past in which outsiders, who did not have the best interest of HBCUs in mind, did more harm than good in their misguided attempts to “help” Black colleges and universities.

Here are several concrete ways to change the conversation about your individual institution and HBCUs in general:

  1. Identify experts in the field of higher education who focus on HBCUs in their research and get to know them.  These people are called by the media, policymakers, and foundations on a regular basis to comment, using empirical data, on HBCUs.  Make sure that these people know about your institution and the positive impact it’s having on the local community, students, and perhaps, society at larger.  The best way to identify these people is to read stories on HBCUs in major newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as these individuals are often cited.  I would also suggest sending materials on your institution — including annual reports, press releases, campaign materials — to these individuals so that they can refer to your institution when giving examples to the press.  You should also be sending these materials to foundations and media outlets.
  2. Write op-eds about your institution’s contributions to student success as well as the contributions of HBCUs in general.  Send these op-ed essays to local, regional, and national papers and magazines. It’s best if these op-eds come from the president of your institution, but they can also come from faculty members who are working on noteworthy research projects or student affairs administrators who have discovered ways to retain or graduate more students. 
  3. Set up an institutional Facebook site for students, alumni, and supporters to join, creating viral enthusiasm for your institution.  Keeping alumni informed, and more importantly, singing the praises of your institution in their local communities is powerful.  In addition, using Facebook allows you to keep in touch with countless numbers of supporters, announce events, and even garner financial support once you have built up a rapport with users.
  4. Send out more press releases about the accomplishments of your institution.  I always tell people that for most papers, 70 percent of what is written comes from press releases.  If you don’t have the professional staff to write press releases, engage students in internship opportunities and give them the opportunity to hone their skills.  Now, some folks will say, “but newspapers only print the negative!”  My response to this is — couch your positive accomplishments as a solution to a longstanding problem.  So, if your graduation rates are up, begin the press release with the problem that your institution faced and tell the story of how you are solving it. 

These are just a few ways to change the conversation around HBCUs, which is even more important during these difficult economic times.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

The Perils of being young, African American and Male

The Perils of Being Young, African American and Male

By James Ewers

jewers1There is an unhealthy generational gap within the African American male community. It is acute and now more serious than ever. There are some stark differences to what was and what is. Black men my age grew up respecting social customs. For example, we loved our parents and honored our teachers. Our neighborhoods looked out for us. Courtesy and good manners were the rule and not the exception. Using appropriate language with our friends and adults was the common practice. We did not stray from these tenets. We respected girls and women. Sure, my generation had girl friends but we didn’t go around calling them nasty names. We answered the telephone by saying hello and not “yo”.

I and other black men of my generation respected our parents. Personally, I loved and feared my parents both at the same time. My mom provided me with exceptional spankings. She orchestrated my spankings. First, she told me to go in the backyard and get a switch. As she spanked me, she always provided me with wonderful commentary. She would usually tell me how much it was hurting her to do this to me. My thinking was if it was hurting her so much, why wouldn’t she stop? My dad, with his heavy Jamaican accent, chastised me even more. His technique was to make me feel so ashamed for committing the indiscretion. Now after all of this was done the embarrassment of it all set in for me. Whenever the kids in my neighborhood got a spanking, everyone knew about it. All of the adults looked at you with shame and we kids just tried to console each other. There was no number to call to say your parents were disciplining you. Quite frankly, that would not have prevented parents from fulfilling their role as parents.

Going to school was a time for learning and for making friends. Our generation of African American men respected teachers. We would never berate them or talk back to them. I simply can’t fathom talking back to a teacher. Our discipline problems never involved guns and knives. If anything, we may have gotten out of hand with another student but never a teacher. I and many others of my time can honestly say that school was a safe place to be. We just enjoyed school and couldn’t wait until the next day. Our neighborhoods were for the most part quiet and serene places. During the school year we were in the house at an appropriate time. When the street lights came on, we were in the house. Police cars in neighborhoods were a rarity. I am sure that I speak for many African American men during this time when I say we didn’t see our friends with handcuffs on getting into police cruisers. We didn’t have street gangs who tormented each other and neighborhoods. Experiences like I just described happened rarely whether you grew up in cities or towns. Did African American males who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s have perfect environments? No. However, there was a certain level of love, respect and civility that we gave to each other and our families and friends. Even those we didn’t know received the same treatment.

Hurt, harm and danger seem to be words that are used too frequently with today’s generation of African American males. When I look out at some African American males in their 20’s and 30’s, I wonder what has happened. Some seem destined and almost determined to go down the wrong track. In the words of the young, they simply love “drama.” I observe and listen to young black men and I wonder, what has happened? Conversations about dope and not hope go on too often. Going to visit a friend in jail and not in college seems to be happening too frequently. Am I being overly concerned? I don’t think so.

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

The Beleagured Michael Steele

By Elwood Watson

Several weeks ago, the Republican National Committee  elected Michael Steele as its first Black party chairman. What was seen at the time as an excellent move on the part of the GOP by some (even some Black columnists such as Earl Ofari Hutchinson and USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham) has devolved into feelings of disillusionment, panic and, in some cases, outright anger as Steele has made several comments that have outraged some members of his party’s more conservative base. Many Republicans are beginning to have second thoughts and doubts about the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

From inadvertently picking a fight with mega radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh on the soon-to-be-cancelled CNN program “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” and later apologizing, to slashing more than 100 positions at the RNC, to voicing statements on abortion and homosexuality in a recent issue of GQ magazine that are clearly at odds with the GOP’s conservative base, he has caused many of his red state constituents to unleash a fury of anger toward him. Comments ranging from “he is a loose cannon” to “he is not a true Republican” have become common responses among many Republicans.

Outraged by Steele’s remarks that Limbaugh was not the leader of the Republican Party but rather an entertainer, and at times an incendiary one, Limbaugh admonished Steele for spending too much time doing a poor job meandering on the talk show circuit and urged him to get to work doing the job that he was hired to do – rebuilding and raising money for the party. It was not only Limbaugh and White Republicans who were voicing their disgust with Steele. Fellow Black Republicans – North Carolina national committeewoman Dr. Ada Fisher and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a runner up for the GOP chairman position – have made their displeasure with their current party boss known. Fisher called for his resignation.

While Steele has made a number of mea culpas and promises to revive the current beleaguered state of the GOP, his goal to reach out to make the party more inclusive to Blacks, especially younger Black Americans, has been noteworthy, yet questionable. In a party that has more than its share of bigots (there are a number in the Democratic Party as well, however in the GOP they are more at center stage) and has voted against the interests of Blacks since the mid 1960s, when the far right snatched power from the more moderate Rockefeller wing, promising to make the party more racially inclusive is going to be difficult for chairman Steele. Too many people of age can remember the infamous 1992 Republican convention where Republicans like Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson voiced vehemently bigoted, sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic rhetoric.

Other examples are the 2000 and 2004 presidential election voting shenanigans in Florida and Ohio some GOP officials were associated with. Many people watched in disgust and horror at the Bush administration’s callous and indifferent attitude toward the largely disenfranchised and oppressed Black population of New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina fiasco in 2005. Then there was the absence of many 2008 Republican presidential candidates from several forums that were sponsored by Tavis Smiley on issues facing the Black community. Such behavior cannot be easily forgotten. Indeed, more than a few of the party’s critics have memories like “elephants” – the party symbol.

Interestingly, there are a number of issues that the Republican Party espouses that would appeal to Black upscale voters. Today’s Black professional class, largely religious, devotedly committed to education, yet progressive on many social issues, would seem to have a lot in common with moderate Republicans. However, in order to accomplish this, Steele will have to clean house or marginalize the bigoted, regressive-minded individuals that have dominated the party since 1964 and restore the party to the more racially inclusive entity that it was during the Eisenhower era. No doubt the current chairman is well aware of this fact. Perhaps Michael Steele (if he survives as chairman) will be able to rectify a party that is currently in shambles politically, racially, socially and in almost every other way imaginable and bring such diverse elements together. It is doubtful but one should never say never.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Hiding Behind Racism

By Elwood Watson

A few weeks ago, I was part of a campus panel discussion that discussed the N-Word, racism and post-racism. I was invited to speak by Bakari Kitwana, author and CEO elwood-watson1of Rap Sessions. Other panelists included Rosa Clemente, 2008 vice presidential nominee of the Green Party; MC Serch, host of VH-1 Shows, “The White Rapper Show” and “Miss Rap Supreme,” M-1 , of the rap group Dead Prez; and Lisa Fager Bediako, president and co-founder of Industry Ears, Inc. I was contacted by Mr. Kitwana to be a panel member. I was honored to receive an invitation to be a part of such a well-known, prominent panel.

Attendance at the event was large, and the question-and-answer session was lively and fruitful. The issue of racism and its manifestations dominated the discussion and seemed to intrigue the audience the most. There were a number of thought-provoking questions from audience members; however, one question that stood out among the others (or at least for me) was “do you think some people make an effort to hide behind their racism?” Each member of the panel responded to this question from their own perspective. I responded yes.

I further argued that unlike the 1950s and 1960s, when it was acceptable, indeed even permissible for Whites, especially White men, to openly voice their racism and sexism toward non-Whites and women without fear of retribution, that several decades later, while such views are still largely harbored by many people, we have advanced to the point of where it is totally unacceptable to publicly engage in overt acts of racial intolerance. I mentioned the Michael Richards (aka Kramer ofSeinfeld” fame) nightclub incident that happened a few years ago as an example. A number (certainly not all) of  people who were repulsed by the fact that Richards would use such ugly, ferocious language in public would have no problem engaging in such behavior in private among likeminded friends and acquaintances. The “I am among friends, it is safe” mindset reigns in such an environment. It is hypocrisy at its finest.

Indeed, over the past few decades we have seen a number of situations where many people, rather than hurl vicious, ugly callous racial rhetoric in the public arena, have resorted to hiding behind their racial hatred in more sophisticated and subtle ways. Among them, the infamous Willie Horton ad that was used during the 1988 presidential campaign by Republican party operatives, the recent New York Post editorial cartoon depicting President Barack Obama as a murdered chimpanzee (the cartoonist denied racial intentions), and the racist e-mail of former Los Alamos, Calif., Mayor Dean Grose who depicted a White House lawn populated with watermelons (the mayor subsequently resigned after public outrage). There are numerous other examples of such deplorable behavior. These are not isolated incidents.

What is even more amusing (in a perverse way) is that more than often when the culprits of such behavior are caught with their hands in the racist cookie jar, they are quick to revert to defensive mode, blaming those who denounce their behavior as being “oversensitive,” “humorless” and get this – troublemakers who should learn to thicken up their tender feelings. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Such behavior is an example of sophisticated racism manifesting itself.

The good news that has come from this is that those individuals who have found it acceptable to participate in such retrograde behavior have been put on notice that in our emerging, increasingly diverse America, such behavior will not be allowed to be winked at or given a pass. Those who partake in such acts will be called out on it and that’s the truth, Ruth!

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Lessons Learned at El Mozote

By Robyn Stegman

At the end of a busy week, I finally got a chance to write more on the experiences of Mary Baldwin College students on a spring break trip in El Salvador with artist-in-residence and human rights activist Claudia Bernardi. In four short days, we have painted two murals with mothers, female ex-combatants and other women from the community. We painted one in particular on the side of a library without books in a community of former leftist fighters of the political group Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). We have taught children how to make stained glass windows out of construction paper and filmed them as they described their school for an exchange video. We have interviewed two mayors, police officers, religious leaders, business owners, ex-combatants and many more members of the community who have illustrated a story of Perquín and its surrounding areas.

As we wrap up our work in Perquín to go to San Salvador, there is one place that sticks in our minds. It is the community at El Mozote. In 1981, during the country’s bloody civil war the national army came into El Mozote and killed an estimated 1,000 people. These were young girls who were brought up to the hills to be raped, men who were interrogated and killed, women who were shot and burned, and children — a startling number of children — who were killed in a church.  From the entire town there was only one survivor of the massacre who has spoken out: a woman named Rufina who escaped by hiding in a tree.  There she heard the screams of her own children as they were killed and saw the destruction of her friends and family.

Claudia Bernardi’s involvement in El Salvador began here. She worked with the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) to excavate the  bones of hundreds of children in the church, the only part of El Mozote to be uncovered like this.  She was there with us to tell the story of her work  and of Rufina.  While our group had read about the incident before, it came alive as we scanned the names and ages of the children who died there. The lines told of children only a few years old; some only days old; one yet to be born.

This story is punctuated by hope. Claudia has helped bring beauty back into a place of death. Today, the site is a garden with a beautiful mural that celebrates the children’s lives. On the other side of the now rebuilt church is another mural that celebrates both the past before the war and the future that is awaiting them.  El Mozote is rebuilding, including the addition of a clinic. Children play in the plaza right in front of the memorial, and women get water from a nearby well. There are signs of life returning to El Mozote like the flowers that now bloom out of the graves of those murdered.

It is here we are reminded of our role in this story. Rufina told her story to anyone who would listen, until she died a year ago.  She believed she had been spared so the massacre at El Mozote would not be forgotten. Claudia reminded us that it is our charge as well to tell the story of El Mozote.

We now know the importance of this. In El Mozote you see the slogan oft repeated in sites of such destruction: ¨Never Again.¨ It is not a new thought, that perhaps the history of war will teach us how to prevent it. Herodotus began his own look at the histories of his time with this message:

” … to the end that neither the deeds of men may be forgotten by lapse of time, nor the works great and marvelous … may lose their renown … especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.”

Centuries later we find ourselves with the same charge: to turn the history of war in El Salvador into a message that will stop the repetition of violence.

So we return to the murals in Perquín, and we help beautify a community that for years saw the worst of human ability. We work with the new generation and teach them hope with color and light. We know that in the background of every mural is the war, but we remember that in the foreground is a community that thrives and the hope a future without massacres.  Above all, we bring Perquín home to the United States, to our lives, and we learn how we take these lessons and this charge and apply them to our future.