St. Mary’s University hosted an experience sharing event titled“Creating space for dialogue about peace and reconciliation” on February 22, 2018 at SMU GraduateSchool, here in Addis Ababa, where two African Americans told their success stories that have turned a 334 year-old wound created by slave trade and the incredible burning of Cambridge in 1967 into an opportunity for communal reunion.

The speakers, Kisha Petticolas, an Assistant Public Defender in Talbot County, Maryland, the first African-American member of the Talbot County State’s Attorney’s Office, and Dion Banks, the winner of the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal – Saudi Arabia and Kuwait Liberation Medal – Kuwait joined by Victoria Jackson-Stanley, the first African-American and first female elected Mayor of Cambridge told participants that their long journey which got started with a brief discussion over lunch is bearing fruit – it has broken the bridge that kept the whites and the blacks far apart and had reunited them. There is no more street or public place that disallows the black from using it.This was possible because of the initiative Ms Petticolas and Banks took, it was learned. According to Mr Petticolas, change is usually initiated by few, very small and should evolve. “Quick change is not a lasting change”, she added. Mrs Jackson-Stanley, on her part, emphasized the need for letting the youth get the platform for working for the community. The root cause of the success of this project, according to them, is their engagement of the community in free and change-oriented deliberations.

The discussion was facilitated by the U.S. Embassy Press Officer Nick Barnett, who also reflected on the slave trade in the US decades back. Having shared his own personal observation about the class divide among the people of the US, he underscored that this generation should acknowledge the problems and work hard toward the betterment of the next generation.

The objective of the experience sharing discussion, said Mr Barnett, was to share US’ experience in resolving conflict and bringing peace and reconciliation so that Ethiopia would draw lessons in managing the current issue in the country through community conversation involving the youth, including students in the Higher Learning Institutions (HEIs), to encourage students “to play a productive role”.

Following the experience sharing talks by the three guests, the participants raised a variety of questions to which the facilitator and the guests responded which made the experience sharing discussion very lively.

In attendance were staff members of various SMU offices, units, schools, institutes, faculties and departments.