In 2017, we lost 34 year-old Michael J. Sharp, a calm and determined advocate for human rights, especially those of vulnerable populations. MJ, as his friends called him, died in Congo which, for years, has been engulfed in political unrest. Military and militia groups there routinely committed atrocities and singled out women and children for gross human rights abuses. MJ was already dedicated to working for justice and peace when he accepted a UN assignment in Congo tasked with investigating the roots of violence and the violation of UN sanctions, among other abuses. While en route to meet with a militia group in the central part of Congo, he and his colleague Zaida Catalan, were ambushed and murdered by assailants believed to have links to the Congolese military.
MJ’s friends and family vowed to continue his work and celebrate his indomitable spirit by creating a scholarship that would train young people from conflict countries in strategies to promote political stability, gender equality, and social justice.
The scholarship in his name is set up at his alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, which has a world-renown program in Conflict Transformation. (One of its graduates is Leymah Gbowee who returned to her home in Liberia to help found a women’s peace movement that facilitated the end of civil war in that country. For her work, Leymah won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011).
The scholarship in MJ’s name will help train more young people from conflict countries in strategies of transformation that help turn regions of conflict and war into societies that practice democracy and human rights.
Some of MJ’s family and friends will soon cross something off his bucket list – a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. MJ dreamed of climbing that mountain himself but he died before he could realize his dream. He also dreamed of a peaceful Congo. This trek, in his name, will celebrate his amazing life and raise funds for the scholarship to continue the work that he loved and died for.
The trekkers have a website to document their climb and enable supporters to “follow” them up the mountain and cheer them on: https://www.facebook.com/MJDreamHike
I’m hoping that each one of these trekkers make it all the way to the top. And I’ll be “following” them up that mountain and rooting for them every step of the way — and I hope that you can, too!
And I really hope you can help support MJ’s critical scholarship fund. Please go to https://emu.edu/dream-hike/ to make your contribution. Please give generously!
With deep gratitude!