Valley peacemaker gets GCC award

January 22, 2008

Valley peacemaker gets GCC award

by Diana Broncaccio Gazette Contributing Writer

GREENFIELD – A local woman who devoted 16 years to Traprock Peace Center and a group of eighth-graders who wrote their own music about the civil rights movement were award-winners at this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance ceremony at Greenfield Community College.

Longtime local peace activist Sunny Miller, formerly of the Traprock Peace Center, received the college’s “Living the Dream” award for her community activism.

Miller, the Indiana-born daughter of a Vietnam War veteran, began serving as a Traprock volunteer about 16 years ago, and then was the organization’s executive director for 12 years, before stepping down last fall. Miller, of Deerfield, has returned to the work she did before Traprock, creating art as a painter in an Amherst studio.

College President Robert Pura said Miller “worked every day to seek peace and to end nuclear proliferation.” He said one of Miller’s most consistent traits has been her willingness to speak out.

“Sunny has worked to find light, truth and insight,” said Pura. “She worked to ask the hard questions, to look behind the curtain and consider what we, as individuals can do.”

Miller said the award was a great honor, but expressed regret that the work of peace activists could not prevent the war in Iraq.

She read from a Martin Luther King speech called “Beyond Vietnam,” in which King recommended several steps to stop the war and make reparations. She said it was a prescription “for what we should have done (in Vietnam) and what we should do now (in Iraq).”

Miller said she is exploring new paths in her life but is still committed to peace work.

A group of about 20 eighth-graders from the Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro, Vt., received the “Bright Light” award for youth for creating a musical program about what they learned of the civil rights movement during a trip to Alabama last spring. “The trip was the culmination of a two-year study of “What It Means to be Human.”

Middle School Director Paul Dedell said a highlight of the students’ trip was spending a day with the Gee’s Bend quilters, near Selma, Ala. The first generation of Gee’s Bend quilters were freed slaves on a cotton plantation, then share-croppers who reclaimed cotton scraps from the cotton mills and scraps of worn-out work clothes to make quilts. Martin Luther King traveled to Gee’s Bend in 1964, and students heard about his visit from the current generation of quilters during their visit. Like Amish quilts, the Gee’s Bend quilts are regarded as works of art and are displayed in museums.

On Monday, several students sang the songs they wrote and relayed experiences that inspired them.

Besides the award presentations, Margery Heins led a chorus in songs, as did folk singer Annie Hassett of Greenfield.

Several shared their thoughts about King. Charlene Brown said her first impression of King, when she was a child growing up in New Hampshire, was of how brave he was for putting his life on the line to help others.

“I remember thinking, if I could do a little of that in my life, it would be incredible,” she said.

Amelia Cain of Ashfield shared one of her favorite quotes from King: “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. … I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are all interdependent.”