Menchu: Violence is for cowards

Menchu: Violence is for cowards

BUILDING LEADERS: Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu works with students, including members of the Homies Empowerment Program, before her speech to 500 people at Urban Promise Academy on Nov. 15. Menchu said we need to connect with our neighbors and elders, not just computers

“Violence is the goal of cowards,” Rigoberta Menchu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, told a sold-out Oakland audience that included gang-affiliated youth. “They don’t know how to resolve problems any other way, so they use fists.”
Menchu, a Guatemalan activist for indigenous people, spoke on Nov. 15 at Urban Promise Academy in the Fruitvale District on a broad range of topics, including violence, leadership and racism. She also met with members of the YMCA’s Homies Empowerment Program, which tries to bridge divides between rival gang members, their friends and families.

”Many times, the one who perpetuates violence is ill,” said Menchu in Spanish. “He doesn’t know how to resolve problems.”
In her speech, Menchu said people today are too interested in Twitter and the Internet instead of participating in real-life opportunities and making human connections.
Menchu’s speech to more than 500 people was sponsored by the Unity Council, One Day at a Time Foundation and YMCA’s Homies Empowerment Program.

Menchu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for organizing peasants to fight oppression. She was the first indigenous presidential candidate in Guatemala and started her own political party.
People from many ethnic backgrounds, gang-affiliated youth, and even Oakland Mayor-elect Jean Quan showed up to hear Menchu.
“I think [Menchu] is a wonderful person,” said Quan in an interview with the Oaktown Teen Times. “She shows how you can use peace for change and not violence.”
Quan, who will be the first Asian American and first female mayor of Oakland, spoke briefly on stage before Menchu’s speech.
“We are a town of tough fighters, and good women fighters—as well as men fighters,” said Quan.
Kimberly Guzman, a senior at Mandela Academy and a leader of Homies Empowerment, was chosen to introduce Menchu.
Guzman said she never imagined presenting a Nobel Peace Prize winner. “I admire [Menchu] so much and having the opportunity to introduce such a great revolutionary woman like [her] was just great,” she said.
Menchu began her presentation by saying that people are now stuck in a materialistic world and think about society’s problems only when they are suffering. She also criticized the way humans look at the environment.
“We are very pretentious to say we are going to save the Earth, when we must first save ourselves—before the Earth recycles us,” she said, prompting laughter and applause from the audience.
Menchu said that racism is a mental, psychological and spiritual disease affecting human beings.
“Why do we have to neglect diversity?” Menchu asked the audience. “The world would be boring if everyone were the same.”
Menchu urged young people in the audience to be leaders.
“You who want to be leaders must learn to solve problems with common sense,” she said.
Menchu said that the highest level of knowledge comes from experiences with people, from activities, and from connecting with our elders and ancestors.
“It’s not just reading a book or watching a movie,” said Menchu. “One key to wisdom is to participate; you have to take chances and participate.”