International Peace Day speaker asks students to help change the world

Olubunmi said there are many challenges to peace in today’s world

Anneliese Schneider

Peace is more than the opposite of conflict, said Tolu Olubunmi , ‘02, in her virtual lecture for the university’s inaugural Day of Peace. on Sept. 21.

Olubunmi is the founder and CEO of Lions Write, an organization that works to give voice and value to the voiceless, according to their website.

In another of the many virtual speaker visits to campus this fall, she discussed finding a new way forward through the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, challenges to peace in today’s world, bettering the environment and her vision of peace.

“[Peace] is the presence of respect—for life, for the planet. It is the presence of freedom. It is the presence of joy and opportunity in so many ways,” she said.

She said we, as a global community, have to push ourselves to overcome past failures.

“Our failures when it comes to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic can be the basis for transformational change,” she said, “in addressing the impact of climate change and building empathy that leads to action on the migrant and refugee crisis and the urgency and political will necessary to end poverty and hunger”.

Solving these problems is crucial to Olubunmi’s vision of peace, though it will not be easy.

She acknowledged the obvious challenges to achieving peace in today’s environment, with the issues of police brutality, pressing climate change, divisive politics and economic problems worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Olubunmi is refusing to give up. The community, she said, should not waste the opportunity to learn from this crisis.

To Olubunmi, the best path to achieving peace can be found in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

These goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, are the organization’s plan to achieve the sort of peace Olubunmi is talking about – help for the environment and better living conditions for people across the globe.

According to the United Nations website, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.

The goals include ending poverty and hunger, providing for the health and wellbeing of all, promoting sustainable consumption and production and climate action.

“In the SDGs lies our blueprint for inclusive, sustainable peace,” said Olubunmi.

Since graduating Washington and Lee University in 2002, Olubunmi has become a powerful figure in the field of public policy, advocating for migrants and refugees and working with Lions Write.

The organization is inspired by the African proverb, “Until the lion learns to write all the stories will glorify the hunter.”

Olubunmi has served on the World Economic Forum Global Future Council, co-founded Immigrant Heritage Month and was specially appointed to the UN in 2018, where she ran ActNow, a campaign to raise awareness and climate action.

She said her goal is “to get us closer to eradicating the hatred of the other that keeps us divided.”

During the talk, Olubunmi gave advice to current students looking to follow in her footsteps.

“I didn’t plan the life that I’m living,” she said.

Olubunmi said she found a way to reorient after the battle of losing her legal immigration status, which inspired her to become involved in public policy.

Students had positive feedback about Olubunmi’s discussion.

“It was great hearing from an alum who has real experience on global peace from her work in the UN.” said William Dantini ‘24. “The talk was an insightful discussion in what global peace is and how we can achieve it on both an individual and international scale.”

Olumbuni finished by challenging students to get involved.

“What can you do? How can you help your community? …What is at your core? What moves you?” she said. “Move towards what moves you and you will find a way to be incredible and useful and a resource, not just to your community but very likely to the world.”