Peace and Disarmament

Back to listSep 23, 2007

Betty Williams Speaks at SGI-USA's Culture of Peace Lecture Series

(Casey McGonagle)
Betty Williams (center) and her assistant, Rusti Findley (right), with Dr.Nazir Khaja (left), founder of the Islamic Information Service, at an interfaith event (September 23, 2007)

"Violence is a choice. Reject it." "Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong, not the weak."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams imparted these words during her lecture on September 23, 2007, at SGI-USA's World Culture Center in Santa Monica, California. More than 900 attended the lecture, one in the ongoing Culture of Peace Distinguished Speaker Series that SGI-USA's Culture of Peace Resource Center is sponsoring to help build an awareness of and sustain a culture of peace in families, schools, workplaces and local communities. Ms. Williams spoke in a humble, frank and powerful way about her grassroots efforts to restore peace in her native Northern Ireland. On August 10, 1976, Ms. Williams was driving home when she heard shots ring out in the streets of Belfast. A secretary and mother of two, Ms. Williams watched helplessly as a car tore down the street -- the driver slumped dead over the wheel -- and plowed into a woman and her three children.

Three decades later, she recalls, "I was the first one on the scene. I hope you never witness carnage like I did." From that day 30 years ago, based on a deep, righteous anger, Ms. Williams took action against the violence and began to galvanize both Protestant and Catholic women of Northern Ireland. She planned a series of rallies at which greater and greater numbers of women demonstrated to end the violence. On December 10, 1977, Ms. Williams and Mairead Corrigan, the slain children's aunt, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Sweden.

(Eric Mitsu Kimura)
A commemorative photo with Soka University of America students during September 2007

Also on September 23, Ms. Williams delivered a keynote address at an SGI-USA-sponsored interfaith celebration marking the UN International Day of Peace at SGI-USA's Los Angeles Friendship Center that included the official ribbon cutting for the exhibition "From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit." Earlier in the week, Ms. Williams spent five days teaching a class titled "Peace is Action Not Words" for 20 students at Soka University of America (SUA), Aliso Viejo, Orange County, California. She also spoke about her work with 1,200 students from high schools in the area.

In the 30 years since she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Ms. Williams has devoted her life to fighting against injustices perpetrated on children throughout the world. She has traveled extensively recording the testimonies of children who have been subjected to horrendous suffering, and has advocated for legislation to protect children. In particular, she has called for the creation of "Cities of Compassion" in every country -- safety zones that would be off limits to any form of military attack that could threaten children's lives. The non-profit organization she founded, World Centers of Compassion for Children International, is currently building the first "City of Compassion" for children in the Basilicata Region of southern Italy. The advisory board includes Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu and SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.

[Adapted from an article in the October 5, 2007 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA]