AUGUSTA — Warning that American democracy has “gone terribly wrong,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams gave the keynote address Saturday afternoon during the Maine PeaceJam Youth Leadership Slam at the Klahr Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Augusta.

Williams, who won the 1976 award with Mairead Corrigan for their work during the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1970s, delivered her remarks via Skype to more than 50 people. Cathy Roberts, director of PeaceJam Maine, called Williams’ appearance “powerful and impactful.”

PeaceJam is a 20-year-old international organization committed to creating young leaders to promote positive change in themselves, their communities, and the world. The group began nearly a decade ago in Maine and has held events twice each year.

During her 20-minute opening comments, Williams became emotional as she spoke of how she got started in the fight for peace by witnessing the deaths of three children. Since that August 10, 1976, event, Williams has dedicated her life to helping children. The organization she founded, the World Centers of Compassion for Children, is building its first model site for children in Italy.

Williams took questions from some students and adults in the audience, specifically addressing our nation’s presidential race.

“You’re the greatest exercise in democracy the world has ever seen, but it has gone terribly wrong,” Williams said. “You’re a great nation, and you deserve better, but somebody has got to stop the nonsense going on at the top.”


The PeaceJam organization, whose foundation has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize eight times, hopes to create leaders among youth who can bring about change in their communities.

“The goal really is to provide peace education and leadership training to youth,” Roberts said. “Hopefully, positive change will come from the work that each individual is doing and they can make a difference in the world.”

Elizabeth Clifford, a senior at Mt. View High School in Thorndike, has been involved in PeaceJam for several years. She said there is always a need for PeaceJam.

“I love being involved because it’s a lot of positive energy that I can bring back to my school,” Clifford said. “It really helps get things started in your own community.”

Kenara Morris, a Unity College freshman, mentored one of the family groups, which met before and after Williams’ talk to complete activities centered around the conference’s theme, “See Me As I Am: Overcoming Bias, Prejudice and Stereotypes.” She said she enjoys mentoring and helping others, and Clifford said the conference gets all the participants filled with positive energy.

“These conferences are so helpful because the kids that are here get so jazzed up with energy that is really easy to bring back to your school and to your classmates,” Clifford said. “It gets them excited, too.”


Dean Sheehan, a mentor trainer and regional leader, said the group is fighting the same things it has been fighting since the beginning. Roberts said the world has changed but the PeaceJam message remains the same — that every individual can make a positive contribution.

Williams concluded her remarks with words of wisdom and encouragement.

“All you have to do is believe enough and you can do anything,” she said. “You’ll have things that’ll get in your way, so just move them.”

Despite being nearly 3,000 miles away and in a time zone five hours ahead, Williams said she could feel the love from the group.

“The power of love is an incredible force,” Williams said. “If I was there, I’d hug each one of you individually and tell you I love you.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.