'The power of presence'
2019 Solomon-Tenenbaum lecturer Carl Wilkens will present "Legacies of Genocide: From the Holocaust to Rwanda and Beyond"
By Helen Dennis, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-576-7600
As violence in Rwanda escalated in the spring of 1994, the United States government ordered all of its citizens to return home. Even though his wife, children and all other American citizens left, humanitarian aid worker Carl Wilkens believed he could make a difference in the lives of two Tutsis who lived and worked with his family. In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, he chose to stay behind in Rwanda.
“We were given the unimaginable opportunity to use the privilege we expatriates had in Rwanda to protect the people in our home. It’s an incredible story of the power of presence,” says Wilkens.
Wilkens will tell his story, among other stories of rebuilding and reconciling, at this year’s Solomon-Tenenbaum lecture. He will present his talk, “Legacies of Genocide: From the Holocaust to Rwanda and Beyond,” at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 24) in the UofSC Alumni Center.
Two tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis, raged against each other for years during the Rwandan Civil War. The 100-day genocide from April to July 1994 saw between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsis killed and 2 million Rwandans displaced. During this time, Wilkens built relationships with Hutus and other people in power, finding empathy and humanity in the Rwandans on both sides of the fight. He used his relationships over the three-month period to protect hundreds of Rwandans, including an orphanage full of Tutsi children.
Despite the extreme horrors of the Rwandan genocide, these conflicts are not unique. In the world’s history, there have been other genocides and there continues to be violence intended to wipe out particular groups of people based on their ethnicity, religion or other characteristic.
“Genocide stems from thinking that says, ‘My world would be better without you in it!’ That is a horrible concept; however, it is present in varying degrees and formats all over America and around the world, for that matter,” says Wilkens.
We were given the unimaginable opportunity to use the privilege we expatriates had in Rwanda to protect the people in our home. It’s an incredible story of the power of presence.
Carl Wilkens, 2019 Solomon-Tenenbaum lecturer
Though the Rwandan genocide ended more than 20 years ago, Wilkens understands that the human urge for superiority still looms large. He and his wife, Theresa, continue their fight against these urges through education. Ensuring that the past does not repeat means changing the narrative, according to Wilkens’ 2016 TEDx talk.
“This is not about what the killers deserve. This is about what the kids deserve. They do not deserve to grow up in a country that is caught up in cycles of violence and revenge. They deserve to grow up in a place of grace. And so, we shift our thinking,” says Wilkens.
The Solomon-Tenebaum Lectureship in Jewish Studies is an annual lecture from the College of Arts and Sciences that brings speakers to campus to talk about Jewish culture and the continued fight for justice.
If you're going
Carl Wilkens will give the 2019 Solomon-Tenebaum Lecture at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 24) in the UofSC Alumni Center ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.
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