Bringing people together for the common good was an overarching theme Thursday evening as the latest winners of annual peace and justice honors accepted their awards.
Ecumenical Campus Ministries hosted its International Day of Peace Gala, drawing together likeminded Lawrencians to recognize an individual and an organization for their contributions.
The two recipients of the 2023 Tom and Anne Moore Peace and Justice Awards were Christine Smith and Sunrise Project.
Smith was a member of the Lawrence Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equity and joined the struggle for a racially integrated swimming pool in Lawrence in the 1960s. She actively protested militarism and the war in Vietnam with the Student Peace Union and Students for a Democratic Society. As a February Sister, “she worked and agitated for women’s rights,” according to her bio.
“It all adds up to 60 years of justice and peace trouble making.”
Smith on Thursday described visiting a civil defense exhibition as a child and seeing a simulation of a bomb.
“When the lights came back up, three-fourths of the city was gone. And I, in my childish wisdom, said to myself, ‘This is crazy. We have to stop this.’ And I’ve been trying ever since,” she said.
She learned as a child about the power that people have when they come together and really care about each other. But she didn’t become an actual activist until she went to college and ran into other people who felt the same way she did, she said.
“It’s been a great life. I have learned so very, very much. I have met such wonderful people — just incredibly wonderful people — and I have been privileged to be part of some of those groups that actually got something done,” Smith said. “It’s been a delicious, sweet life, and this is icing on the top of it.”
The recipient of the award for organizations was Sunrise Project.
“Sunrise Project serves Douglas County by providing space and opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to build an equitable community through education, good food and social connection,” David Cooper, ECM’s director of development and programming, wrote in a nomination.
“They work toward building a resilient community that provides for its own needs and offers opportunity for all people to grow and eat culturally appropriate foods, care for the land and one another. They are committed to creating an equitable community in which people of all ages and experiences live self-determined, healthy and meaningful lives.”
Melissa Freiburger, executive director, said she sees Sunrise Project and ECM doing very parallel work for social justice in creating spaces where people feel belonging and can socially connect.
“When we started Sunrise Project eight years ago, the hope was that by creating a space, an organization that is truly for everyone, that we would be bringing people together from different backgrounds, and that people would get to know each other that may not have otherwise had the opportunity,” Freiburger said. “And now eight years into our mission, we see that happen every day.”
La’Pourchea McConico, president of the Sunrise Project board of directors, told attendees that Lawrence is home to so many people. We all look different, we’re from different backgrounds, and we can all contribute different things to our community, she said.
“So it is a beautiful thing for us to be able to have a home that has a focus on peace and on justice and equality,” McConico said. “So I’d just like to thank you all for being here tonight and contributing to the community that we live in and that we serve on a daily basis.”
C.J. Janovy, a veteran journalist who is currently director of journalism content at KCUR, was the guest speaker for the evening.
Janovy spoke about the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in Kansas and honored the memory of Stephanie Mott, a transgender Christian activist and writer who died at age 61 in 2019.
Janovy said that in Mott’s experience touring the state as a trans woman in 2011, the vast majority of her interactions with people — even those who said they’d never met a trans person before — were positive, educational and respectful. That was a stark contrast to the anti-trans laws the Kansas Legislature passed during its recent session, and to the national conversation that has grown so virulent, Janovy said.
“I don’t know if even Stephenie Mott, with her great power, could have sort of stopped that train that was coming down the tracks,” Janovy said. “But I think a lot about her, and I think about how she always began her talks with saying what an honor it was to be able to tell her story. And that’s how it feels to stand up here tonight.”
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— Reporter Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.