Attorney John M. Phillips On Leymah Gbowee, PeaceJam And Happiness

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Ernest Hemingway said, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” I can certainly relate to that remark. It was quick, but all the steps in my recent trip to Ghana were pretty spectacular. It is something I hope to repeat soon.

Let me start with how this came to be. The trip was inspired by an amazing citizen of the world named Leymah Gbowee. She was born to war-torn Liberia. She fled to Ghana as a refugee where she slept on the earth and missed her home despite its problems.

She ultimately went back and started a movement. First she handed out flyers, stating, “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up – you have a voice in the peace process!”

She then rallied other women to join her, who would interlock their arms and remain seated in government hallways. According to one of the leaders, “The peace hall had been seized by General Leymah and her troops.” When the men tried to leave the hall, Leymah and her allies threatened to rip their clothes off. Ultimately, the men put down arms.

Reasonable minds prevailed. After nearly two decades of civil war, this women’s movement not only led to the end of the fighting but to the first elected woman leader of a country in Africa. Leymah Gbowee received a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2011.

Davis Miles Referral

I became aware of Leymah through Abigail Disney, a filmmaker and the grandniece of Walt Disney. After Rolling Stone Magazine featured my client Jordan Davis, Abby was one of the first to call. I was sent a copy of her prior film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which featured Ms. Gbowee. It is an amazing film about an amazing woman.

After meeting the team and seeing her work, it was clear Abby was someone I could trust Jordan’s story with. After months of filming, the twists and turns of documentary filmmaking created a powerful piece called, “The Armor of Light,” which primarily examines the question, can one be evangelical or pro-life and be pro-gun? My family’s story is featured. During filming and downtime, we’d often talk of Ms. Gbowee.

Fast forward several months. An opportunity came up to travel to Ghana and meet Leymah Gbowee with an organization called PeaceJam. I immediately started researching. PeaceJam teaches children and young adults using a curriculum influenced by the teachings of Nobel Prize Laureates. The best of the best humanitarians in the world provide both written and in-person feedback to students across the world.

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I landed in Accra, Ghana June 24 after a 10-plus hour red-eye flight. Normally, I can sleep on long flights, but I could hardly contain my excitement to land for the first time in Africa, much less meet a Nobel Laureate. I arrived at the University of Ghana right before Leymah addressed the crowd of 400 teenagers. Her words were inspirational and the message of peace and love was not missed by anyone. She told the story of Mr. Dogood, who became the envy of another because of his good deeds. She baked a poisoned pie for him to eat. He stumbled on a starving family and fed them with the poisoned pie. The family belonged to his rival. She poisoned her own children. Over the next two days, I’d spend many hours in a small group or one-on-one with Leymah. I will cherish it forever. When we parted, she gave me outfits for my children which literally brought tears to my eyes. She is an amazing person.

While there, I was asked to speak about finding inspiration and I told the story of Jordan Davis. I spoke of how Jordan’s death lead to his mother and father becoming heroes in their own right, how it changed me and how we must channel loss and hurt into something positive. I became emotional multiple times, particularly when I looked up and saw so many loving eyes sharing this moment with me.

I also assisted in teaching a “Shark Tank” type exercise, where my group of students started a philanthropic, humanitarian basketball team. Each and every moment, each and every footstep was special. There was not one which was unhappy.

On my last day, we went to a distant village. Despite not having some of the “luxuries” which surround us, the technology which connects us and the television which informs and entertains us, the residents of Agormanya were far richer, far more personally connected and far more happy than the people I see on many days back home. As I walked the streets, a spontaneous game of football broke out. While these children schooled me, I was all smiles. It was one of the best moments of my life.

Hate is a learned behavior. Racism is a learned behavior. By contrast, we are born loving those around us. Not only will I be going back to Africa, my wife and I are scheduled to attend the next PeaceJam conference in Brussels, Belgium. We will not only see the Dalai Lama speak, but will work with Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who won the prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines. I am sure I will wake up happy every day there as well. I will certainly bring back wisdom to help me be a better advocate and father. If you are looking for a noble cause to donate to, please look into PeaceJam. It’s amazing.

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