This is the first in a series of posts by 2009 recipients of the Carl Wilkens Fellowship, awarded by Genocide Intervention Network and named for the only American to stay in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Today’s guest contributor, Laura McCarthy, hails from Dallas, Texas.
I remember the moment clearly, when I decided I wanted to work on genocide prevention: I was watching the news and saw a short piece about Darfur in 2007. It talked about how the genocide had been ongoing for a number of years, and about the upcoming “Genocide” Olympics in China pointing the summer of 2008. Activists at that time were organizing rallies to protest China’s importation of Sudanese oil, given Sudan’s use of the profits to buy arms and fund the conflict. I sat there, wondering why I had read and studied the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, and other genocides, and yet never actively done anything about current conflicts. I went online right after the program, and joined a local Save Darfur Coalition chapter, Defend Darfur Dallas. I started attending meetings, and later became director. My work as director led to being awarded the Carl Wilkens Fellowship, which in turn motivated me to submit testimony to the Texas Legislature to voice my support for the formation of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Education Commission.
It has been very rewarding to watch the progression of the legislation, from its unanimous passage in the Texas House and Senate, to the day it was signed into formation by Governor Rick Perry. The Commission went into effect on September 1st of this year, and is currently in the selection process for members. Another Wilkens Fellow, Susan Smylie of San Antonio, and I co-authored an op-ed that ran in the San Antonio Express-News in September. Collaborations like this have been another unique benefit of the fellowship. Susan and I have worked together on a number of issues, and hope to co-found a Texas anti-genocide non-profit.
It is my hope to become a member of the Commission and assist Texas educators, either this year or in the future. As part of our Wilkens fellowship training, each fellow has worked to identify their life goals as an activist. I was motivated to return to school at Southern Methodist University this year and pursue my Masters of Liberal Studies, with a focus in Peace and Social Justice, with the intention of entering a history doctoral program in a couple of years. The fellowship helped me realize that a career educating Texas university students about human rights and genocide will be my life’s work. I owe a great deal to the program and the people at Genocide Intervention Network, and as a Wilkens alum, I look forward to working with them and watching their progress as they continue their work to end genocide around the world.
The Carl Wilkens Fellowship is a selective, 12-month program that provides a diverse set of emerging citizen leaders with the tools and training to build sustained political will to end genocide. Visit GI-NET’s website for more information and to apply (due November 1).