Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee on Talking Points
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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee is no stranger to turning anger into activism. She joins “Talking Points” to discuss how war and destruction during her teenage years fueled her women’s movement, which eventually helped end Liberia’s 14-year civil war.
Gbowee won a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a Liberian peace activist, author, social worker and women’s rights advocate. She is also the founder and President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, based in Monrovia. She spoke at the first annual TPG awards and serves as a member of PeaceJam, an organization empowering youth around the world.
TPG has been supporting PeaceJam since 2015. In 2019, TPG invested $400,000 in PeaceJam initiatives, which helped expand programing in Guatemala, Ghana, South Africa and Liberia.
On the podcast, Gbowee shares with Brian Kelly how she navigated the Liberian civil war as it tore her family and the community she once knew apart.
“I remember just crying and crying, and that thing just building up in me and telling myself, ‘I need to change this. I have to do something. I have to work with women. I have to do something.'” That thing, she recalls, was her anger.
Gbowee explains how she was able to rally women from different backgrounds to demand former Liberian President Charles Taylor attend his first public peace talks. She goes on to explain how you, too — whether you are incensed about climate change, political leadership, or the travel industry — can channel your emotions into energy that creates real and impactful change.
“Every one of us are angry at something in this world. Do something, just step out of your comfort zone and do something,” Gwobee says.
This episode honors the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the 25th anniversary of the National Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. For Gbowee, she is investing her time and resources in education and leadership development:
“I’m raising the next generation of very loud women. Young women who are leaving footprints in the sand of time, and young women who are not afraid to express themselves.”
For more information on how to support the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa or other charities to mark the 25th anniversary of the National Day of Service, please visit TPG’s list of charitable organizations. And find more information on the best credit cards to use for charitable donations or how to give points and miles to those in need.
You can play this episode above, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Leymah Gbowee: What is it that holds us together? This is a question that even as we celebrate the week of service, as we celebrate Dr. King, I think that was the key question, what is it that draws us together as people? Not our race, not the tribe, not the way we speak English, not… but our collective humanity.
Brian Kelly: Welcome to this special episode of Talking Points. I’m your host, Brian Kelly, and in honor of MLK Day and the 25th anniversary of The Day of Service, we have a very, very special guest today. Not only is she a Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped to bring peace to a country and end the civil war, she’s also a dear friend of mine. It is my honor to welcome Leymah Gbowee to Talking Points. Leymah, thank you so much for joining us.
Leymah Gbowee: Oh, you’re welcome, Brian. Happy new year.
Brian Kelly: Happy new year. We met several… probably almost four or five years ago in Ghana through our work with PeaceJam. How do you explain PeaceJam to someone who asks you about it?
Leymah Gbowee: Well, I describe PeaceJam most time as the place where you wish there was PeaceJam when you were younger. PeaceJam is that space where young people just come together, get inspired by the lives of phenomenal people, but also take that inspiration, add it to what they already have, their own vision for the world that they find themselves, and they put it out there. For Liberia, people describe PeaceJam as the only space where a lot of young people come together to think positively to transform a country that is in so much turmoil. PeaceJam is the hope for the next generation. PeaceJam is that global mentoring stage, a place where young people get not just a meet Nobel Peace Prize winner, but to meet Brian Kelly, to meet other people who would just inspire them and make them to want to dream.
Leymah Gbowee: Again, it comes back to everything we said about the world that we find ourselves in. If you look at where we are in a world with the war, poverty, everything, the young people are the ones who are feeling it the most, and PeaceJam is that space that tell them that you, not them, you can transform this space.
Brian Kelly: Your life story is incredible. So you grew up in Liberia…
Leymah Gbowee: Yep.
Brian Kelly: By the way, “Mighty Be Our Powers” is Leymah’s book, which if you want hope and inspiration for humanity, I highly recommend.
Now Liberia, for those who don’t know, it’s an interesting country. There are the local tribes and then it was also founded by freed American slaves. Is that how you describe Liberia or is that a U.S.-centric view, that, of course, we have something to do with everything?
Leymah Gbowee: I think that’s the U.S.-centric view, and I feel like that’s one of the reasons for where we find ourselves as a people in that state of turmoil because in 1822, there was the arrival of free slaves from here by a group called The American Colonization Society who was trying to repatriate free slaves back to Africa. But when the free slaves arrived in 1822, there were indigenous people living there, and it was the indigenous people who gave the free slaves the indigenous welcome. So to start the history of Liberia from 1822 is a disservice to those people who were there, who welcomed people, who give them their land.
Leymah Gbowee: So you have a lot of indigenous Liberians saying, “It’s time for us to rewrite our history.” That it didn’t start in… We have a seal, a symbol like the USA, but that seal says, “The love of liberty brought us here.” Liberians are saying in the interest… Others are saying indigenous Liberians are saying, in the interest of reconciliation, it should be, “The love of liberty met us here” and that brought us here because people were … So you have all of these contradictions about the history of Liberia.
Brian Kelly: So much of Africa was colonized. So pre-Liberia, what was the country? Was it ever under a colonization?
Leymah Gbowee: We never technically got colonized by any country, but we feel like at the arrival of the free slaves, that was a kind of colonization.
Brian Kelly: Wow.
Leymah Gbowee: That’s my individual view because most of those people who came, the history of Liberia is that a lot of what was done to blacks here on the plantations and in slavery was done to indigenous people [in Liberia].
Brian Kelly: So, you grew up and civil war broke out. So the foundations of that civil war date back to the founding of the country and the divisions between people?
Leymah Gbowee: Yes, after over 100 years of American-Liberian rule, there was a coup d’etat in 1980 where indigenous people took over. As a way of retaliating for years of subjugation, for years of discrimination, 13 of the most powerful American-Liberian men were put on a pole and publicly executed. So then a lot of those who already had American citizenship came back to the U.S. and then there was this kind of mobilization amongst them. And then in 1989, Charles Taylor, who is a descendant of American-Liberians came. So-
Brian Kelly: He was American-educated, right?
Leymah Gbowee: Yes. It’s all this circle of revenge and violence and revenge and violence that has led us to where we are today.
Brian Kelly: Leymah, what was it like growing up in Liberia when you were just a little girl?
Leymah Gbowee: Oh, my early childhood memory of Liberia was awesome. I grew up, I tell people, in a community, and I mean a real community. We had maybe 14 of Liberia’s 16 tribes. It was a kind of slum, but it was a kind of bubble. So you know that contradiction where people think wealth is the bubble, but it was poverty but bubble, meaning as a child, I never saw anyone go hungry because every house had … they would give food to people. So it was just that place where no one really knew what was happening.
Leymah Gbowee: I grew up seeing my dad stand up for women who had been battered by their husbands. I grew up… One of my earliest memory of success was that at the end of the school year… Those days the school year ended in December… you had to take your report card and go to every house in that bubble and say, “I made a pass,” or “I made a fail.” So if you passed to the next class, you got like a coin. If you failed you probably got punished by every parent, but you had to go to every house. So it was really a decent community that I grew up-
Brian Kelly: Really, when they say it takes a village to raise a child, that really seems like it was that sense of love.
Brian Kelly: So you had a happy childhood, smart … You wanted to be a doctor growing up.
Leymah Gbowee: I wanted to be a pediatrician, yes.
Brian Kelly: So all of those plans came, basically, to a crashing halt. There were pockets of peace but then it really broke out again in ’89?
Leymah Gbowee: Yes, like one day after my high school graduation, exactly 30 years ago this past December, we slumped straight to war.
Brian Kelly: So the war breaks out, you can’t go to university, and it’s really just a matter of survival at that point?
Leymah Gbowee: Oh my God, yes … For someone who was socialized to believe in a sense of community, I’m totally confused. I’ve never had to deal with this.
Leymah Gbowee: So gradually, the anger started to build up in my life. Then you see executions. I grew up, up to 17, never seeing a dead body because children … it was an abomination for children to see a dead person. But then you start to see people being executed. Really, there is a total disorientation. Is this my community? Is this the place that taught me that we were civil?
Leymah Gbowee: I remember the first time someone came from the village and said to my mom that there was a summary execution or that children had been taken from an entire village and placed into a well and they were all killed. She said, “No, this is… No. That is a made-up story. It can never happen in my Liberia.” And then during the war one day, she saw this guy picking in the garbage and she stood u, and when… There was this wire fence, and said, “What are you looking for in the garbage?” And he said, “I’m looking for palm kernels.” She said, “What are you going to do with the palm kernels?” And he said, “That’s what I’m going to crack open and my kids and I will eat it tonight.” He said, “We don’t have any food.” She said, “Wait for me.”
Leymah Gbowee: So she went inside and brought five cups of rice and give it to him and said, “Go and eat.” She went back and sat down. Like in split second, a pickup truck came with some army men and they asked this guy… Rice in 1990 used to be called “gold dust.” So they asked this guy, “What do you have in your clothes?” And he said, “Nothing.” They searched him, they saw the rice and said, “Where did you take it from?” My mom is sitting and watching the interaction. This guy apparently is afraid to say her because he knew —
Brian Kelly: They would go after her.
Leymah Gbowee: She’s watching and then she stands up to go and say, “I gave it to him.” And she hear a gunshot; he’s executed. So I come back, and she’s telling me, “I just killed someone. I just killed someone. I just killed a guy. I just killed a guy.” I couldn’t understand what’s happening. She said, “I vehemently argue that we were a civilized people. Liberians were not evil.” She said, “But they just kill, they just kill, they just kill.” She was never the same, probably until ’92.
Leymah Gbowee: So this is just to give you a glimpse of how low we came as a people. So I’m totally confused as a 17-year-old child. This is not my world, this is not my socialization, this is not… I was taught. This is not what I was taught. This is not what I know. So everything was strange to me totally. So there was this deep-seated hate for anyone carrying gun, regardless of which side of the aisle you fought. I was just raging inside. There were three kinds of anger that I had; one, anger at fighters, anger at the government and the anger at God because I had grown up in a very religious home and we were taught that every time we prayed, God would answer us. I prayed and prayed and he’d never answered, so I was like, “I’m done with God.”
Brian Kelly: So you gave up almost… not faith in humanity, but I can imagine the hopelessness, the feeling of hopelessness. Now, you also were a refugee at that point. What was it like having to leave your mother country? I know you were in Ghana at the Buduburam refugee camp, which I visited on our PeaceJam trips.
Leymah Gbowee: So we fought to get on that ship. My dad used to work with government, so we were easy targets. Every one of us was sitting targets.
Brian Kelly: He worked in the U.S. embassy?
Leymah Gbowee: Yeah, he was working with the Liberian National Security Agency and then he was like the government’s liaison with the American government. So he got arrested and he almost got killed. So the guys at the embassy took him in. So he was in hiding in the embassy and we were out. So for months he thought we were dead, and for months, we thought he was dead until someone by the stroke of luck told us… he couldn’t come outside because he would have been executed. So when we found him, he said, “You all can stay.” Because every day, we had to look for food. He was guaranteed a plate of rice from the U.S. embassy; we were not guaranteed that.
Leymah Gbowee: So once we heard that a ship had come in, was going to Ghana, we got on the ship. But the initial message was that this ship was going to Freetown. So my dad assumed that we were going to Freetown. We got to the port and then they said the ship was Ghana-bound. There were no telephones, there were no one. So for months, he thought we were in Freetown whilst we were in Ghana. We got to Ghana, there were absolutely no plans for us. We slept at the port for three days. I remember media people coming to interview and basically…
Leymah Gbowee: one of my memories was, “Were you raped during the war?” That was the first question, and once I said “no,” no one was interested in interviewing again because people were looking for sad war stories. We moved to that camp and we slept on the cold floor on an unfinished building. I remember the first time my mom made a mattress, it was of straw. For weeks, she was cutting grass and collecting it and drying it and going around begging for bags, and she turned it into a straw mattress, and that night we were so happy to just snuggle next to her on that straw mattress.
Leymah Gbowee: But the one thing I can say was that after everything with all the trauma she was going through, she kept saying, “Imagine all of those people that we saw die. We have life, we have hope.” So it was just that kind of encouragement that we were picking up the pieces. Gradually hope started coming. But to go to school I was like, “No, I’m not going to invest in school when one tiny instrument can take all of that away.” So we were just on that camp. But again, I was arrested in Liberia. Mentally, I was there, I wasn’t in Ghana. So after a year on the camp, I got on a naval gunboat all by myself and went back to Liberia.
Brian Kelly: And in Liberia, you started the movement. I love reading in your book that when you were on the floor of that refugee camp … what was it, 20 years to the day? … that you were in, essentially, rock bottom … that you won the Nobel Peace Prize. That is a testament that everyone can do something that leads to something bigger. So what was that initial spark that got you to start organizing?
Leymah Gbowee: Anger, Brian. Anger. So by this time I had my fourth child, it was an abusive relationship, I left. I came back home. I already knew in the back of my mind that again, that socialization that I had from childhood was firmly sited somewhere. It informed my value system, so I knew what was good for me in terms of our relationship and what wasn’t good for me because I had seen how the community rallied around abused women.
Leymah Gbowee: So I come back home and I started to volunteer with the trauma healing program, working with ex-child soldiers, and I realized that the entire system, that women were just like the toy of war. It just increased that anger, or brought it back from the wartime, because little girls … People who had come to distribute rice were having orgies with girls just to give them a cup of rice. I remember just crying and crying, that thing just building up in me, telling myself, “I need to change this. I have to do something. I have to work with women. I have to do something.”
Leymah Gbowee: But it never really sunk in until I met a group of women who had different forms of disability. One person was breastfeeding her child and her breast got cut off during the war. But this woman’s telling me that she was going back to her community to make a change, that women could make a difference. I had this cynical look. And then they asked me, “Were you raped?” And no. “So why are you so angry?” I went back home and asked myself, “Why am I so angry? If these women have hope, who am I?” So I said that was my baptism into the women’s movement, when those women really challenged me and challenged what I could do with all of that anger. It was not automatic, it was one day at a time.
Leymah Gbowee: So when we started … when I started building the movement, I think there was this realization that you can’t give what you don’t have. I didn’t have inner peace, so there was no way that could work for peace. There was a lot of anger and toxicness about me as I moved around. I had to tell my story, and I was fortunate to find a group of women who listened to me tell my story. They said that they thought I would never stop talking. I knew that for us to… for women to do that kind of work, we needed a space for them.
Leymah Gbowee: So the first step was to get these women to tell their stories, stories of rape, stories of marriages that failed, stories of children that had died. Once we did that, people were energetic, they were energized, and it was like, “What can we do?”
Brian Kelly: I’m sure there was still anger, but the anger turned to energy.
Leymah Gbowee: The whole idea was getting the few women to be of the same mind. If I was to preach to you a bit, the Bible says, “Can two work together unless they agree.” There has to be an agreement that yes, we believe in this, yes, we want to go with it. For me, it was never about the multitude of individuals, I just needed one committed person. I was fortunate to find seven, and that was the beginning of it.
Brian Kelly: The story is way abridged today, but “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is the amazing film that Leymah starred in and helped make with Abigail Disney. Tell us the story in way more detail. So the movement begins to grow, women realize that they need to band together. One of the pivotal moments in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” was when you faced Charles Taylor. So the women were all outside, you were striking, and finally he agreed to meet with you. And Charles Taylor is a notorious warlord, he’s employing child soldiers to kill people, and you had the opportunity to go face-to-face with him.
Leymah Gbowee: Oh yeah. There is a movement where you are afraid, and there’s a moment where fear just seemed to disappear because you’re just a frame of yourself. But also because I have been a part of this movement and I’ve sat with women who told stories of the atrocities. So this was not my fight. I had to put myself in the shoes of all 2,500 of those women. So I was going up there to tell him, this is … They give me this paper to read to him. So once they said they were coming up, we were coming up to him, very angry, he said, “I’ll come down.”
Leymah Gbowee: So I read this statement. But then first, they had positioned the mic so that my back would be to him. I turned the entire thing around. I was just on a roar that day. So then after reading the statement, I tell him that we’re sick and tired of all of this, and then he agrees to go to the peace talk. This is the first time he made any public kind of intention of going to talk peace. For me, it was not Leymah.
Brian Kelly: The peace workers that you were with, you physically barricaded the room —
Leymah Gbowee: We did.
Brian Kelly: … that the men were in until a peace accord was reached.
Leymah Gbowee: We sealed the hall. No one would come out, there’ll be no water going in there for them until something was done. A few days later, about 10 days later, we had a peace agreement signed. We went back home, not just sitting down and celebrating, we took that peace agreement, summarized it, called 80 women leaders from across the country, “This is the benchmark. This is what you should see happening. If these things do not happen, protest, protest.” Because we were not resting and we didn’t rest until we had our first post-war elections.
Brian Kelly: One of the remarkable things about your movement was that you brought together Muslim and Christian women. Would you say that the pivotal moment was in bringing together the different factions of women?
Leymah Gbowee: I think that’s the key. Because in the world that we live in today, Brian, it’s easy for people to divide us based on our perceived differences. You’re white, I’m black, you’re a man, I’m a woman, you’re this and you’re that. But if you cut Brian as a very handsome, tall, white man, what comes out is a red blood. If you cut me as a black, very demanding, commanding —
Brian Kelly: Beautiful, stunning.
Leymah Gbowee: … what comes out, the blood that runs in our veins technically shows our collective humanity. What we were looking for with those women was, what is it that holds us together? I think this is a question that even as we celebrate a week of service, as we celebrate Dr. King, I think that was the key question, what is it that draws us together as people? Not our race, not the tribe, not the way we speak English, not … but our collective humanity. That thing that … it’s the blood, it’s the breath. Because if you fall today and that breath is taken out of you is, that’s it. There is no store in New York where breath is sold and there is no bush medicine in Africa where breath can be given back to you.
Leymah Gbowee: So if we come to that understanding, and that was where we came as women, the question we asked each other, yes you’re Muslim, yes you’re a Christian, yes you support Taylor, yes you support Lord, but does the bullet pick and choose? Can the bullet say, “You’re Muslim so I won’t hit you and I’m going to hit a Christian?” The answer was a resounding no.
Brian Kelly: So you believe in… I believe in that travel breaks down barriers. I’ve become a better person from traveling. Do you recommend, in general, for people in order to break down the stereotypes that they have is to… Maybe it’s not even going to another country, but is it going —
Leymah Gbowee: Engage.
Brian Kelly: … into your community… Yeah.
Leymah Gbowee: Talk to them, get to know them. I’ve had so many experiences of just stopping and asking people questions, “Why do you do this? Why do they do this? Why is it like this? Why is it like that?” I’ve had people ask me questions even in my own community, there are certain things I don’t understand, so I will ask questions and they’ll say, “Oh, it’s because of this.” And then you learn. So the more knowledge is power. The more you ask questions, the more you interact, the more you cross over.
Leymah Gbowee: I gave a speech once in going into other people’s spaces and just crossing over, taking that step. My grandmother forced us as young girls, my sister and I, to go to a farm of an old lady that was called the witch of our community. We went in there, got to know her, and it was never the same again. So that’s what we encourage people to do. Go into other people’s space. If you can travel, there are places and spaces. We have to, because where our world is, the reason why we’re seeing the rise of leaders that are not responding or that are widening the gap with racism and all of the different things is that people are not taking off time to investigate, to ask questions. This is supposed to be the civilized world, but the civilized word looks more like the primitive world because people are not stopping to engage.
Brian Kelly: I remember a salient point that you had right after the travel ban and everyone was upset about refugees, the U.S. not doing enough. But you raised the point like, what have you all done to help the refugees on your campus or in your community? There are huge problems we can’t stop, but in our communities there are many ways to engage to help others. You can start small. So Leymah, you’ve turned your anger into a positive force, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What can someone who’s listening today who is angry about Australia burning or these huge issues impacting our society… What can an everyday person do to start turning that anger into real change?
Leymah Gbowee: Most times I say about American women that they sit in their living rooms and they’re politely angry, angry about reproductive health issues, angry at … But like you rightly said, I think the first step to doing some of these things is literally … For example, Australia is so far away, but just by researching and maybe sharing some stories about the pains of those who are suffering from the wild bushfire or even writing a letter to someone, that’s one thing you could do. People who often say, “Oh my God, our world is so divided and there’s so much racism and there’s so much hate.”
Leymah Gbowee: What amazes me is how social media has this way of showing good. Like, oh, this guy stopped his car and crossed this old person, and it makes one million views. It shouldn’t be that way. This should be a normal phenomenon. But it shows our world is upside down, that good is now evil and evil is now good. So when you see one tiny bit of good, whilst it gets a lot of shares, we need to do more of these things to normalize good, to normalize peace, to normalize love. But right now what is normal is hate. Like you walk into a store and you have a smile on your face, someone will look at you and say, “What the F are you smiling about?” Smile should be a normal thing.
Leymah Gbowee: Anger is fluid. It’s neither good nor bad. Our expression of what we do with the anger that we carry in us. Every one of us are angry at something in this world. Do something, just step out of your comfort zone and do something.
Brian Kelly: One of the other organizations that I personally donate to is The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. You’re doing amazing work, especially for young women in Liberia. Can you just give a quick explanation of your foundation and how you’re moving the needle in Liberia?
Leymah Gbowee: So education and leadership development for young women. I’m looking to see more Leymahs with young girls —
Brian Kelly: The world needs more Leymahs.
Leymah Gbowee: Yeah. I’m looking to see more young girls who are not afraid. I’m raising the next generation of very loud women, young women who are leaving footprints in the sand of time and young women who are not afraid to express themselves. We have a few young men in our program. We’re raising that generation of young people who have the character to lead our country. Today, we have almost 600 direct and indirect individuals that we’re working with and sending to school. We do a lot of scholarships for them, leadership development. Thanks to Brian and many other donors, we just finished our PeaceHhub where young people can come and hang out.
Leymah Gbowee: But also, we are doing 360 degrees in terms of our support. We want to debunk the myth that you find in a lot of the writings around that if you pay a girl’s school fees, you’ve educated at her. We are doing not just school fees, we do health care, we do housing, we do legal aid for them if they need it, because we’re of the opinion that you cannot just educate if you don’t deal with all of the other issues that they’re dealing with. Our program is also very focused on giving back to community. One group that we deal with also is the forgotten group, the Ebola orphans. Billions of dollars went into Liberia when we had the Ebola crisis. Today no one is looking back at those children-headed households. We have some of them on our scholarship that we’re investing in.
Leymah Gbowee: I tell people The Gbowee Peace Foundation is my new lease on life, keeps me looking young, because I have to compete with those girls in the looking-good thing. But it also has given me that hope that I did it once, but these young people will do 10 times more than I’ve done. But at this point in time, I feel like the young people who have gone through so much, they are the hope for Liberia. So my time, my energy, the little resources I have is what I’m investing in the education of young people, leadership development.
Leymah Gbowee: But recently, we added one more piece to it, character building, because without a decent character, all we’ll do is just keep recreating new Charles Taylors and new failed leaders for Africa. So basically, that’s what we’re doing now. So that’s the hope for Liberia. I would say in this public space, thank you, Brian, because you’ve been generous, really generous to us. My staff can go to work in comfort because we have a bus that was donated by you. Our building, you supported the building we have. I don’t know how to say thank you.
Leymah Gbowee: But I remember one thing you said to me, I’m going to put you on the spot now, you said since you started giving, since you started philanthropy, there’s so much fulfillment in your life and your life has taken a turn that you never anticipated. I can tell you for free, whether you go to church or not, I’m a church girl, that you have so many young people out there, Liberia, Ghana, South Africa, who pray for you as a result of your generosity, and we’re looking forward to celebrating your wedding.
Brian Kelly: Well, Leymah, you are giving me the gift of … I’ve seen firsthand in Liberia, you are saving children’s lives. You’re not only providing them education and food, but you are shaping a new generation that will change the world, change Liberia. I will reiterate since I started giving to PeaceJam and The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, my life has, in many ways, taken off in ways that I would never expect. So thank you for doing the real hard work on the ground. For any listeners, to donate to The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, the website is gboweepeaceusa.org, and that’s Gbowee, G-B-O-W-E-E, peace usa.org. Leymah, thank you so much for sharing your story today. Hopefully, it inspires others to start small, be kind and let that good in the world multiply. I’d love to just end on the story of that fateful morning in 2011 when you found out that you won the Nobel Peace Prize. You tell the story so eloquently. So can you tell us how you found out that you won?
Leymah Gbowee: So the night before I was at Sheryl Sandberg’s house. It was the last day of my book tour and she said, “Tomorrow is the Nobel announcement and my vote is Leymah.” And I said, “Sheryl, stop it.” I personally never imagined that I would win the prize because everything I’ve done and continue to do has never been for accolades. It’s been because there’s a problem and we’ve been taught to serve humanity, especially if you’ve been blessed. So I get on a flight, a red-eye from San Francisco to New York, because I have an event at the church in New York to speak to a group of women.
Leymah Gbowee: So I sit next to … I think I’m the only woman in business class. There are all these men in black suits, you know that they are a corporate people. I had taken off my African dress, so I just put on a boubou. So I really didn’t look anything Nobel at that moment. Got on the flight, the guy next to me, we didn’t speak to each other. I cover my head, went to sleep. We landed and I tried to put on my cellphone and voicemail, full, text message, full. My sister had surgery the day before. I said, “Oh my God. Don’t tell me she’s dead.” If you’ve lost a sibling before, you always worry about the other.
Leymah Gbowee: So I’m fighting to read, and I see the first text from Abigail Disney that said, “Nobel, Nobel, Nobel. I told you, my friend, that you’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize.” This guy that I had not spoken to on this red-eye, I turned to him and said, “Sir, I think I just won the Nobel Peace Prize.” He looked at me like … Because honestly, I didn’t look anything like it. The guy sitting in front of us turned around and looked and check his phone, looked at me, looked again and say, “Yep kiddo, you sure did.”
Leymah Gbowee: Before he could even think, I was hugging him and hugging every other man in that business class of the airplane. But that was how I found out that I had won the prize. Apparently, there’s an early-morning call. I missed the call because I was on the flight. So, I think in the history of the Peace Prize, I’m the only person who never got the call that you are a winner. So I was totally like disoriented when I won the prize.
Brian Kelly: Well, I can vouch that even a normal red-eye, I’m disoriented. I can’t imagine waking up to that news. But Leymah, on behalf of everyone at The Points Guy, thank you for everything that you do. You spoke at our first-ever TPG Awards, and people still talk about it. Our employees who get to go to PeaceJams around the world and who have experienced the joy that you bring to the PeaceJam kids in real life are always blown away. So you have had an indelible impact on The Points Guy as a company, and you are a true hero in my eyes. So keep inspiring millions of people and we’ll keep supporting you. Thanks for taking the time today.
Leymah Gbowee: Thank you, Brian. Thank you, listeners. Happy new year to everyone.
Brian Kelly: That’s it for this episode of Talking Points. If you’re not inspired to go out and help someone or even just start spreading a smile, then I don’t know what will help you. Huge thanks to our guest, Madam Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and all-around amazing person. Thanks also to Sarah Jewel of the Gbowee Peace Foundation USA, and to my amazing team, Caroline Schagrin and Margaret Kelley, and my amazing executive assistant, Christie Mitsui, who keeps my life in order. You are the best. Thanks everyone, and safe travels.
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