By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.
Cofounder, Peace Camp

If you are looking for someone to be drum major for your peace movement, Nawal G. Rajeh is the person for the job.

Nawal Rajeh was born in Youngstown, Ohio to immigrant parents from war-torn Lebanon in the Middle East. Ghassan and Samia Rajeh fled civil war in 1979 and landed in an Arab community in Ohio. Their stories of the ravages of war were heard by Nawal as she grew up and influenced her to become the peacemaker she is today.

Nawal Rajeh, Cofounder of Peace Camp. (Courtesy Photo)

Growing up with her sister, Salma, in Youngstown, Nawal attended elementary, middle and high school before she heard much said about Martin Luther King Jr. But once in college, pursuing a degree in Peace Studies at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, she became familiar with the words and lives of both King and Mohandas Gandhi. Rajeh’s upbringing in the Maronite Church of the Eastern Rite of Catholicism also contributed to her lifelong commitment to peace.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” she quotes from the Bible, “for they shall be called children of God.”

After college, she joined a yearlong service program, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps that brought her to St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore as the assistant director of its Community Center.  While there, she co-founded with center director, Ralph Moore, a Peace Camp for children to learn non-violence and positive conflict resolution. The camp, now named for Nawal, has operated for 13 years and is free of charge for area campers.

Dr. King’s value of the dignity of service found its way into Nawal’s heart during her  work at the community center. Working with the after school program’s children, the adults in the GED Program or co-organizing for hundreds of jobseekers to participate in the full day job fair on the MLK holiday, brought about King’s life lessons for her to dwell on and live by. Rajeh believes in the oneness of humanity. Dr. King taught us, she says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In service you learn what people are going through and are grounded in advocacy and action to right the wrongs being done to others. Nawal sees the connectedness of humanity; “We are all tied together from Lebanon to Baltimore to everywhere. We are one.” King called it, “A single garment of destiny.” Nawal has a master’s degree from George Mason University and is currently working on her PhD in conflict analysis and resolution.

She loves and respects children.  It is obvious when you look at her and see how children are drawn to her.  At Peace Camp, she and the staff teach children to have the courage to be peacemakers and to work together to bring about change for the better. Peace heroes such as Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Mother Mary Lange and Nelson Mandela are studied one per week.

Genuine inner peace, commitment to social justice and her willingness to speak truth to power are the values that are most like MLK in Nawal Rajeh.  So she is a peace hero in her own right.

Ralph E. Moore, Jr.

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Martin and Me

Ralph E. Moore, Jr., Cofounder of Peace Camp. (Courtesy Photo)

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, I was a freshman in high school. His bold polemic against violence and aggression influenced me as much as any lesson I learned in school.  He took us all on a walk through history and time in his speech from Riverside Church in Harlem. As we all know, exactly one year from the date of King’s prophetic statement he was killed; I was devastated.

A few months after he condemned U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, another hero of mine, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the army because of his religion’s value against war. But it was King who first caught my eye and my ear.

I was moved by his clear and compelling messaging that seemed to come from a deep place in his soul.  I admired his courage to go to the Deep South and to inner-city Cicero right outside of Chicago.

But it was Martin’s donation of the complete $250,000 Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights Movement that inspired me and let me know just how totally invested he was in what he believed. It was a lesson I learned and have adapted for my own life.