Violence in Chicago Compared to the Liberian Civil War

by Jonathan Lehrer
JCUA Communications Consultant

Screenshot from "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." See the complete documentary on the PBS website.

Screenshot from “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” See the complete documentary on the PBS website.

What does a civil war more than 5,000 miles away that ended 10 years ago have to do with gun violence in our backyard today?

Plenty, says Dr. Marcenia Richards, founder of Fierce Women of Faith, one of JCUA’s community partners.

Introducing the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Richards said the struggle and ultimate triumph of the women of Liberia inspired her to rally Chicago women against violence. Richards’ passion is reflected in the very name of her organization. (Learn more about Fierce Women of Faith.)

The 2008 film tells the story of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a group organized by Leymah Gbowee, a social worker who eventually received the Nobel Peace Prize. By convincing the Christian and Muslim women of Monrovia, Liberia to work in partnership, the group’s efforts led to peace after years of civil war.

I saw the film recently at Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette, the synagogue community where I served as president a few years ago (and where I also started the annual film festival during which this documentary was screened). Judy Levey, JCUA’s executive director, spoke about JCUA’s recent work with Fierce Women of Faith (learn more). Judy is also a member of BHCBE, where the Social Action Committee has placed urban violence on its agenda.

After the movie, and via email, I chatted with Dr. Richards.

What aspects of the film inspired you to create FWF?

I was particularly inspired to create FWF because ordinary women (i.e., mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters) gathered together for a greater cause, from different faith backgrounds, clearly understanding that senseless violence affects everyone.

How is the situation in Chicago similar to or different from Liberia?

The situation in Liberia is very similar to Chicago because we are losing our children and youth to violence at a very rapid pace to senseless violence.

What do you think motivates people from different communities (in Liberia, it was the Christian women and the Muslim women) to work together? What are the implications for Chicago?

Peace is a universal language. Various groups, rather individuals have come together for centuries to promote peace. The implication for Chicago is that women are capable of creating change and doing the impossible. Throughout ages, we have occupied roles from wives, to mothers, to surrogate mothers, single parents, etc., and yet, we have maintained our positions in the workplace. As sisters from various faith backgrounds, we can redefine our communities and change the faces of our communities, as we unite for a greater cause.

Anything else you’d like to say to the readers of JCUA’s blog?

Tragedy often weaves together valuable relationships. I hope valuable relationships will be established among sisters from all faiths throughout Chicago, in order for us to create and sustain change within our communities, for the sake of our children.

Back row, from left: Anna Lloyd and Marcenia Richards, both of FWF; Judy Levey, JCUA; Ellen Kaufman and Robin Hershey, BHCBE. Front, from left: Linda Becker and Cantor Jan Mahler, BHCBE.

Back row, from left: Anna Lloyd and Marcenia Richards, both of FWF; Judy Levey, JCUA; Ellen Kaufman, BHCBE; Robin Hershey, BHCBE Film Festival Programmer. Front, from left: Linda Becker and Cantor Jan Mahler, BHCBE.

The pink rebozos are sold by Fierce Women of Faith as a fund-raiser. Call Dr. Richards at 312.675.2570 to order one and make a contribution.

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