By Beth Davis
In reference to genocide, the words, "never again" are the most abused words in the world, according to Paul Rusesabagina, the hero depicted in the Academy Award-nominated movie "Hotel Rwanda." Rusesabagina spoke to a packed crowd of 2,500 during a recent event sponsored by the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh chapters of the Black Action Society, the African Student Organization and Amnesty International. Despite politicians' promises to stomp out the "systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political or ethnic group," he said genocide still exists today.
In fact, he said the current situation in Darfur, Sudan is chillingly similar to that which he experienced during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. when 800,000 people were killed, mostly by machetes, over a three-month period.
During that time, Rusesabagina managed to save 1,200 fellow Rwandans by hiding them in the Hotel des Mille Collines, where he worked as an assistant manager. Through extensive negotiations with political and military leaders, Rusesabagina kept Hutu rebels from invading the building.
"I never fought with a gun, but rather with my mouth," he said. "That is the sharpest weapon."
Adam Donnell, education chair of Hillel JUC and a lead coordinator of the event, said he hopes that the information presented through Rusesabagina's speech, as well as through a slide show that documented past acts of genocide around the world, will inspire those in attendance to stand up and take action.
"We don't want this to come and go like a flash in the pan," Donnell said. "We want it to have a lasting impact."
Donnell and the core organizers sought to accomplish this by inviting 12 local service groups to set up tables at the event. Before Rusesabagina's speech, people were given the opportunity to browse each station, pick up information and talk with representatives. In addition, in the weeks prior to the event, there were multiple events both on and off campus designed to educate students to the dangers of genocide, including a trip for Pittsburgh students to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The Hillel JUC recently hosted a special Darfur Shabbat that included an art exhibition of children's drawings by survivors of the genocide in Darfur, and members of the four sponsoring organizations followed up the Darfur Shabbat by hosting a "bowling for Darfur" fundraiser two days later.
At the conclusion of his speech, Rusesabagina encouraged the students in the audience to get involved and assured them that they can make a difference.
"Tomorrow is yours," Rusesabagina said. "You can shape it the way you want it. You can change the world if you want to."
Beth Davis is a student at the University of Pittsburgh.