Before the month of February ends, this post is in honor of Black History Month. Recently, the American Embassy opened a new “American Corner” at one of the universities near where I live in the Northern Province. The American Corner is a small library/conference room where anyone can go to read books about the US and other topics, find study resources for standardized tests, and more. Last week I attended the grand opening of the “corner.” In honor of the opening, the embassy sponsored the screening of a movie about the civil rights movement in America.
It was a good movie, but what I found most interesting was the responses of the Rwandese people. Even as I myself watched the movie, I was thinking about parallels between this event in the US and the genocide in Rwanda. Obviously, they were separate events that played out in very different ways, but the idea of ethnic/racial hierarchy that spurred each and the fact that lives were lost over the concept are some things that relate the two. It seemed at the end of the movie that the Rwandese people watching also viewed the movie through this lens.
During the question and answer period, I noticed that the theme was justice. For example, “Was Martin Luther King’s killer found and how was he punished?” and “Was there a special system put in place to penalize the people responsible for murder during the civil rights movement?” After the genocide, it was necessary to put a new “genocide law” in place to deal with the complicated issue of punishing people when so many were guilty at various levels. This is a challenge that Rwanda still faces.
Most touching was the fact that one administrator at the school was moved during the movie to get up and retrieve his guitar. Eighteen years ago, after the genocide and in response to it, he had written a song about embracing love and not hating. Spontaneously, he decided to perform his song (twice) for the crowd. It wasn’t planned but it really seemed to bring closure and cohesion to the event.
No matter where you are, hatred occasionally rears its face. And even though the magnitudes of the civil conflicts that emerge vary greatly, we’ve all had our low points in history. More importantly, we all learn from these low points and move on, however difficult or slowly, towards understanding.