Note: This blog was written by Lori Ketcher, Brian Lee, Brook Sparling, Ann Shannon, and Lisa Shannon.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
For so many who came together as Congo activists, Katherine Fleming Yarges was a light—and a rock. Whether stepping up to Run for Congo Women, as one of A Thousand Sisters, taking on conflict minerals in the 45,000 penny campaign, or shooting protest selfies for Outcry for Congo or Special Envoy Now. Katherine was a steady, glowing presence that represented the very best of the Congo activist community. She was a constant voice, known for “liking” nearly everything posted by fellow activists. Even more, she seemed driven by an innate understanding that community, connection, and mutual support are the “secret sauce” that makes up social movements. “She cared so much for the world—and acted on that.” Ann Shannon recalls, “She always showed up. Always.”
In 2010, when Brooke Sparling organized a Run for Congo Women team to participate in the Big Heart Big House event in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Katherine and her friend drove all the way from Kentucky to join the team!
"Most of our team ran or jogged the 5K, but Katherine and I walked. As we walked together we talked about the Congo the whole time. We shared the same outrage, grief, shock, and sadness about the crisis. We also shared a determination to do something about it. We talked about the different angles the various activists and organizations have taken, and which ones we felt most aligned with. It was great to connect with her, a fellow Congo activist, especially at a time when my activism was often met with apathy. We remained friends and she was always very supportive of all my Congo activist projects throughout the years."
Long term human-rights activist Lori Ketcher shares, “Katherine was no ‘Johnny come lately’ when it came to being an activist. She was kind, caring, sensitive, and always very happy to help, particularly when it came to making the world a better place. Katherine was one in a million.”
Katherine was a child of the 1960's, and she became a fighter for civil rights in the South. She shared with Lori Ketcher that she had marched and protested quite a few times, often discussing the danger we felt as we watched civil rights being challenged again today, after the blood that had been shed and lives ruined in fighting so hard for those rights nearly 60 years ago.
As a lifetime activist, Katherine was such a light for all of us, a cheerleader for so many activists and the causes to which we dedicated our time and energy, always offering her words of encouragement, her experiences, and advice. When she saw a fellow activist going through a hard time, she would always be there to remind us that we were loved and awesome.
Human rights activist Brian Lee recalls:
"She was an angel and made some tough times for me so much more bearable. As a openly-gay man from Florida, I had a lot of friends that were affected by the Orlando club shooting and it was rough experience for me to watch my friends from home grieve and search for their lost friends. Katherine saw my pain and would check in on me; she even sent me a poem that was written by her dear friend in Florida about a rainbow. The poem was beautiful and brought me so much comfort and restored so much hope for me that I decided to have it framed. She is a friend and sister that will always have a special place in my heart. I miss her dearly."
Remarkably, Katherine formed so many of these connections without ever meeting her dear friends and activist community in person. Lori Ketcher recounts of their ever-deepening friendship:
"Sadly I never met her in person, though we talked on the phone many times. These calls always lasted, at the very least, an hour. From the many years I knew her, close to 10, I came to love Katherine as a dear friend. She was always interested in others, and sort of "kept track" of a fairly large group of people. Should anyone from the flock become quiet or stop posting, it was Katherine who made it her assignment to locate and check on that person.
I was one of those people she checked on after I became very ill over what turned out to be Valley Fever. She would often call to see how I was doing whether I was hospitalized, or at home. Her loving spirit was supremely evident. We would often talk about our sons; she had three, I had two. Very often one of her sons, or my sons, were giving us grief. It was so special to be able talk to a friend that truly understands the fear, and/or grief we go through over our children. Katherine was hilarious, with a deft, dry wit. We often laughed together, and less often cried together, or spoke of Katherine’s loved music. She would tell me about the artists she saw live before they made it big, like Leon Russell, and Waylon Jennings. "
True to Katherine’s activist spirit, her family requested that any gifts go to the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign. Raise Hope for Congo aims to build a permanent and diverse constituency of activists who will advocate for the human rights of all Congolese citizens, work towards ending the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, and reinforce the need for a legitimate, conflict-free mining sector in eastern Congo that benefits the Congolese people rather than profiting armed groups.
For all of us who knew her, Katherine is dearly missed. Yet she remains a constant reminder of the best of all us, quietly showing up, day after day, post after post, raising her voice for an equitable, humane world, challenging power to end horrific crimes against humanity, yet all the while silently providing the loving glue that ultimately makes social movements stick.
Brava, Sister Katherine, on a life beautifully lived.
The Enough Project would like to express our admiration and appreciation for Katherine Fleming Yarges’s dedicated activism for peace in Congo. We are honored to receive donations in her memory to help us continue our work to support peace in Congo. We extend our sincere appreciation to Katherine’s friends and neighbors who have contributed to Enough’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign in her memory.
Photo: Katherine (second from left) at a Run for Congo Women event. Photo credit: Brooke Sparling.