To honor her work toward a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and her service to seniors, Margaret Brown is this year’s recipient of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peacemaker Award, presented by the Church of the Crossroads.
A celebration will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 to honor Brown and the late Robert Baker Aitken, a Buddhist master, or "roshi," who will be given the Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Peacemaker Award. Accepting the award on his behalf will be his son, Tom Aitken, and Michael Kieran of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha. The public is invited.
Brown, a member of Church of the Crossroads for 15 years, called the yearly MLK celebration a "gathering of justice seekers," during which the singing of old civil rights anthems is capped with "We Shall Overcome." She is described as "a vital and caring presence in the congregation" by the church’s MLK Celebration Committee.
Brown has given 13 years to Hui Manawale’a, a branch of Project Dana, an interfaith community effort that provides services seniors and people with disabilities.
"I’m sort of hooked on service," she said. A longtime assistant to occupational therapists, "I feel a special affinity to working with older folks."
Brown played a key role several years ago in establishing the local chapter of Friends of Sabeel, whose mission is to seek peace and justice in the long-standing Middle Eastern battle. The local chapter has an interfaith membership and works closely with Jewish and Muslim peace groups, she said. Brown coordinated the chapter’s educational conference last February.
Brown was inspired to join Sabeel after hearing a lecture 2002 by the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian-Episcopalian leader who founded Sabeel. The international speaker also wrote the book "A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation," published in 2008.
Brown made an eye-opening trip to Israel in 2009 and said living conditions of segregated Palestinians in Israel were devastating.
Brown grew up in Maryland in the 1950s, when blatant anti-Semitism could be seen in ways such as signs posted on beaches saying, "Gentiles Only."
"I had Jewish friends and was very aware of the prejudices when I was a kid. I also attended segregated schools," she said, adding that she saw firsthand the strife-torn process of desegregation, forced by civil rights legislation.
Brown lived for a while within the Muslim society of Istanbul, Turkey, where they wanted to kill Israelis, she said. "So I heard that side of it. I was feeling very uncomfortable with that because I had Jewish friends."
When she started attending Crossroads, she got involved in many of the issues discussed at the church, which has a history of social activism.
But, she said, "I’m not a rabble-rouser. … I try not to be angry about things people get upset about. At some point you have to agree to disagree. My role is to provide people with good information about the ones who are not represented in the media, like Palestinians. The Palestine point of view is given short shrift in the media."
Aitken was posthumously selected for the Lifetime Peacemaker Award for "his commitment to social justice, civil rights, peace and social engagement," the celebration committee said. One of the founders of American Zen Buddhism, Aitken died Aug. 5 at age 93.
Aitken co-founded Diamond Sangha in 1959 and also started Zen centers in South America, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Europe.
In 1978 he helped found the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, which promotes social activism by Zen Buddhists. Aitken, the author of several books, led or participated in prison advocacy campaigns and programs supporting sustainable agriculture around the world. He advocated against nuclear testing in the 1940s and was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the committee said.
He helped organize chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and American Friends Service Committee in Hawaii, and also counseled draft resisters during the Vietnam War.