Reader readers knew about Wangari Maathai and her tree-planting Green Belt Movement more than a decade before she won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize — and before a change of Kenyan government turned her from an activist on the run to Kenya’s assistant minister for the environment.
She got her higher education in the US in the 1960s, and not all of it in the classroom. As she told the Progressive in 2005, “While I was in the United States, Kenya became independent from the British, in 1963. For me, it was a moment to celebrate that finally we were free, as Martin Luther King was crying out at that time. And I thought we were going to enjoy our freedom, we were going to be happy, we were not going to be oppressed anymore. Little did I know what lay ahead. But when I encountered violations of human rights by my own people, my experience in the United States gave me the courage to stand up and say this is not right.”
She’s back in town this weekend to discuss her book Unbowed: A Memoir at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel, cosponsored by the university and the Chicago Humanities Festival (Sunday — free but reservations required), and to dedicate a native woodlands garden at the Al Raby High School for Community and Environment at 3545 West Fulton (Saturday).