Macy is a high-school student in Boulder who interns with Cultures of Dignity. She is very passionate about women’s rights, human rights, social justice, and gun control. This is her experience with planning an event on genocide awareness.
Never Again… Again?
By Macy Miller
“Never Again.” At least in my life, this phrase has not been uncommon to hear. Growing up in a Jewish family, I learned early on about what the Holocaust was, and what it meant for my ancestors then and what it means for me today. But in my world, the Holocaust was the only genocide I knew about.
But last November I went on the Anti-Defamation League’s National Youth Leadership Mission and met Eugenie, a Rwandan genocide survivor, who spoke to us about her experience. Somehow, even though I had taken AP World History, I was never taught about the Rwandan genocide. I was so embarrassed and felt so uneducated. The Rwandan Genocide occurred in 1994, only 25 years ago. At the same time, here in the United States, the cult-classic “Friends” aired for the first time. This was recent; it’s hardly even old enough to be in history books.
Over the course of 100 days, one million people were killed.
Unlike the Holocaust, these were not systematic killings. These were individuals chopping up their neighbors with machetes. Listening to Eugenie’s story of survival widened my lens of what the term “genocide” meant. “Never Again” has been a phrase I heard frequently in school, at my dinner table, and at my synagogue, yet here I was hearing horrors that did happen again, and when they did, the world turned a blind eye. I was stunned. I was mortified. I was confused. After that day I was forever changed. I had a fire lit within me to fight the causes of these atrocities, and it was not going to flicker out. I decided to do something that would raise awareness and educate my peers on these lesser-known genocides; especially because our education system has come up short. I wanted my peers to have an experience like mine; an experience that would change their outlook on life and make them more aware of the events that have transpired and still do in our world.
I decided to plan an awareness event for my community.
I sent out emails, I met with representatives, and I reached out to victims and other possible people who could speak on this tough topic. It was a slow and long process, but even if only ten people showed up, that would be ten more people that were now more educated about the tragedies of our recent past. Ten more people that could use that newfound knowledge to educate others. Ten more people to notice the warning signs of genocide when they see them; ten more activists against genocide.
I didn’t expect to be able to find anyone from the Rwandan Genocide to speak at the event; there were so few survivors, so I was surprised when I found Chantal. It took months of back-and-forth communication with Coalition Against Global Genocide (CoAGG) directors, but I was eventually connected with Chantal and she agreed to speak at my event. I also had two other speakers: the daughter of an Armenian genocide survivor and a woman who had been to Rwanda after the genocide and had seen the tragedy up close. The audience could really relate to this woman and what she experienced as an outsider looking in on such a horrific tragedy, instead of a survivor.
In the end, almost fifty people came to my event.
Unfortunately, the majority of the attendees were adults, which was slightly disappointing as my goal for this event was to educate teens, but it was still such a meaningful night for both me and my speakers. After the event, the Rwandan genocide survivor, Chantal, talked to my dad and told him how thankful she was for this event, as it gave her a platform to share her story, and sharing her story helps her to heal. It touched me to learn that she said this and that my event not only impacted audience members, but the speakers as well.
I know that going to a genocide awareness event on a Thursday night may not sound like your idea of a good time, but the point of events like this isn’t to have a good time. It’s about educating yourself on the past so that you can be an advocate for “Never Again” to really mean never again. These are not easy stories to hear- they are truly heartbreaking. But if we don’t listen to the stories of survivors, who will be there to recognize those warning signs? People turning a blind eye or denying this history allows for these horrific events to happen over and over again. It is so important to acknowledge that these survivors exist. Silence perpetuates violence. Our generation holds the world in our hands and we need to be responsible with what we do with it. We must take responsibility for educating ourselves, because if not us, who? And if not now, when? Because it’s happening right now in Syria, in China with the Uigers, and it needs to be acknowledged and stopped.
If you are interested in learning more about genocide:
A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum