Peace Pilgrim Statue Dedication Ceremony
Report by Jemila Ericson
Actress - Public Radio Host

The Power of YES — Working for Peace
by Jemila Ericson

Before her passing in 1981, the woman known to the world only as Peace Pilgrim walked more than 25,000 miles across this country spreading her message — "This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” Carrying her only possessions in her tunic pockets, she vowed, “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." She talked with people on dusty roads and city streets; she spoke to church, college and civic groups, on television and radio always about peace. She believed world peace would come when enough of us attained true inner peace. She lived her message completely, seeing herself not as an individual, but as "an embodiment of the heart of the world, which is pleading for peace.”

Jemila Ericson and Peace Pilgrim statue
Jemila Ericson with the statue of Peace Pilgrim. Jemila hosts Morning Music on Public Radio in Greenville, NC and is a long-time teacher of peace.

I met Peace Pilgrim in 1972 when she came traveling “on foot and on faith” through my hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin. I was profoundly affected by her presence. Although she was a small figure with snow-white hair and a deeply wrinkled face, she exuded more joy and vitality than anyone I had ever met. I remember little of what she said that night, but I shall never forget how I could see light streaming off her face as she spoke.

Fifteen years alter meeting her, I went into the New Hanover County schools dressed as Peace Pilgrim to deliver her message once again as part of a Living History project. I was astonished at the intensity of the children’s (and sometimes the teacher’s) responses. I wrote to a Quaker couple who had dedicated their retirement years to distributing a book: Peace Pilgrim - Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. They were two of the five compilers of the book. They were excited about my re-enacting Peace, and encouraged me to “be sure to wear old tennis shoes full of holes” for my portrayal.

Nearly ten years after I wrote that letter, a portion was published in their "Friends of Peace Pilgrim” newsletter. It came into the hands of a Quaker woman living in Monteverde, Costa Rica, who wrote me an amazing letter in which she invited me to come and perform in the schools there. She told me that if I said Yes, she would personally organize an effort to create a statue of Peace Pilgrim to be installed on the campus of the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. She would further organize an academic seminar about Peace’s life and its effect on the people who knew her.

I have learned the power of YES . With travel assistance offered by the Monteverde Friends community, I made the commitment to go. So from November 11—23, I found myself talking to hundreds of young people in San Jose and Monteverde, speaking at the academic seminar, and helping to dedicate the statue. Many lively hours were spent sharing stories, talking and laughing with Mayte Picco-Kline (who translated the book into Spanish and who worked with me in some schools where English was not spoken), and visiting with Peace’s 85-year-old sister Helene Young. Of all the incredible things that happened, my favorite was when I returned to my hotel after full day of performing; at the exact moment I walked up, Helene was just arriving from the airport. When she saw me for the first time, her face lit up and she cried out, “Hello, sister! How are you?” Any concern I had about how she might feel seeing me dressed as her beloved sister simply evaporated. I grinned and crowed, “Great!” She threw her arms around me and said, “That’s just what my sister would have said.”

So, to my Morning Music listeners who wondered where I was for two weeks in November, now you know. Although it was very much a working vacation for me, I loved what I was doing. And I found time each day to revel in the spectacular beauty of Costa Rica, even finding time one morning to hike into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to see exotic plants, rare birds, and friendly coati mundi. To all of you who sent me good wishes for my journey, thanks. And if you'd like your own copy of the book about Peace Pilgrim, just let me know I’ll get one to you, free.

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