On the evening of October 9, Kalamazoo College hosted the opening ceremony for the Global Prize for Transformative Social Justice Leadership.
Global Prize is an event hosted by K every two years, and is dedicated to “honoring and uplifting grassroots work that challenges structural inequality and centers the voices of those most impacted by an injustice.” The winner of the Global Prize wins $25,000 towards their social justice leadership project. The first Global Prize was hosted in 2013.
The Opening Ceremony began with a singing performance by Yolanda Lavender, a local artist. Mia Henry, Director of Arcus Center for Social Justice, then took the stage and thanked everyone in attendance and took a moment to remember the native Potawatomi people, who occupied Kalamazoo before the early 17th century. She also thanked the host families in Kalamazoo, with whom the ten finalists stayed.
Henry introduced President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, who dedicated the event to Grace Lee Boggs, an author, feminist, and activist who passed away recently and was regarded as a model of social justice. “Every encounter I had with Grace was a stretching experience … she always made me dig deeper,” Wilson-Oyelaran said. Boggs received an honorary degree from K in 2007. Wilson-Oyelaran then concluded by pouring Boggs favorite drink, Heineken, in libation.
The seven jurors, were then introduced. Alison Geist, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement; Carmen Nogueron K ’18; Ed Menta, Professor of Theatre Arts; Fernando Ospina, Organizer/Trainer with ERACCE and Regional Fellow with Arcus; Nobel Peace Prize nominee Medea Benjamin; Nikilas Mawanda, Co-Founder of Trans Support Initiative – Uganda; and Urooj Arshad Associate Director of International Youth Health and Rights were the panel selected to choose the winner of the $25,000 prize.
Ten finalists were then introduced by short videos summarizing the cause of their organizations. The ten finalists were “At a Crossroads: Forest Dwellers of India”; “Bavubuka: Transformative Voices of Justice”; “Black on Both Sides”; “Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement”; “Justice for Injured Colombian General Motors”, “ASOTRECOL”; “Mujeres, Lucha y Derechos Para Todas A.C. (MULYD)”; “Our Community is Our Campaign, Freedom Inc”.; “Radical Mental Health: Paths for Individual & Collective Liberation”, “The Icarius Project”; “Trans Women of Color Collective: Shifting the Narrative”; “Uno por Uno, Puente Human Rights Movement”. All these organizations focused on transformative social justice, with a goal of changing the world.
After a music performance by local trio Scarlet Discourse, the keynote speaker and juror Medea Benjamin was introduced. Benjamin has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as various other distinguished awards. She is the Founder of Code Pink, a woman-led grassroots peace organization founded after 9/11. The group has protested the war in Iraq, and led the largest demonstration ever recorded in 2003.
In her keynote address, Benjamin touched on how it is “contradictory to celebrate social justice with a competition,” and noted that the finalists overcame this with their sense of comradery. She also criticized the system and its eagerness to go to war and use violence. “War should not be profitable,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin concluded with the message that “only love can conquer hate.”