I spent some time this morning trying to educate myself more about news on Darfur and actions individuals and organizations could take. I don’t consider myself a dramatically emotional person, but I usually find myself crying when I visit fastdarfur.org. In our culture, I still hear people say things which I would translate, “strong men don’t cry.” Just as sadly, I hear professional women apologizing for tears, at moments when they seem entirely appropriate to me. How has this developed in our culture? Tears are one entirely appropriate response to oppression. Outrage, is at times equally appropriate. Given the facts of atrocities, I wish there were many, many more tears, and that they resulted in more commitment, strength, and action. Indifference is the one reaction that seems entirely unacceptable. . . . If more men could cry, I believe there would be fewer wars.
John Montgomery is a Houston businessman with a passion for helping to end genocide in his lifetime. He is the founder of Bridgeway Capital Management and the Bridgeway family of mutual funds, known for its quantitative investment strategies. The firm has a unique high-energy, participative, values-driven culture. Since its inception in 1993, Bridgeway has differentiated itself in the marketplace through financial stewardship, an ownership culture, a cap on compensation at seven times the lowest compensated person, and a policy of donating half its profits to not-for-profit organizations. John serves on the board of Bridgeway’s affiliated foundation, which has a core mission of peacemaking, reconciliation and ending genocide.
John has a heart for raising up the next generation of equipped and passionate leaders, is the father of three very international adult daughters, counts faith as a center and source of his life’s work, and lives with his wife Ann in his native Houston. John holds undergraduate degrees in philosophy and engineering from Swarthmore College and advanced degrees in engineering from MIT and business from Harvard.
On fasting. As I begin, I am uneasy with the public nature of this fast. I think of fasting as more private, personal, spiritual in nature. I was intrigued by an email received by Jon Foreman and Jon’s reply. Both sides of these arguments resonate with me. I am very comfortable and supportive of the aspect of this fast as non-violent protest and to increase pressure for political will. If more people become more educated by this effort, as I have been, I am glad. If one of these people takes action in a way that makes a positive difference in the life of a person suffering in Darfur today, or helps to avert some future genocide, I celebrate. I would be horrified to think I would have any effect of provoking feelings of guilt in others. To do so I would be a hypocrite, as may become clearer below. I start from where I am and move forward; and this would be my encouragement to others. I also disagree with the Wikipedia writer on one point, “A hunger strike cannot be effective if the fact that it is being undertaken is not publicized so as to be known by the people who are to be impressed, concerned or embarrassed by it.” While I believe it is important that this fast be public, the voice of one oppressed person crying in solitude does not go unheard. Nor the person who choses to do so for reasons expressed by others here.
On this community. I am honored to be a part of the community fasting in solidarity. I am humbled to be fasting in solidarity with those in the region of Darfur for whom fasting is not an option. As I begin, I am so aware of the differences. As my wife lies in bed asleep beside me, I have no thought of our security. No soldier with guns will burst through our door. We actually have a door. A refrigerator is around the corner, even though I choose to avoid it. What is going through the mind of Adam, or Dajhima, or Amouna as they rise to a new day as mine is ending? Yet, perhaps our desires for our children are very similar. Our longing for peace, the same.
Why I fast. I fast for peace. Yet, do I really know the whys? A very wise man once asked me why the company I founded gives away half its profits. I gave him my standard 2 minute answer to the question. He pondered, and then said, “So you don’t really know why you do this.” I have never forgotten the wisdom of his observation. Sometimes we think we know, but do we really? So instead of trying to answer this question, I thought I’d give my history with respect to genocide. This is not world history, it is simply my personal history:
Armenia. I was not alive. I feel no responsibility. Yet somehow, I am connected.
First nations, e.g. the trail of tears. The United States is my country. I associate with the people group we call Americans. I am proud of some of our values and traditions. Others make me cringe or recoil. We have our own genocide. Some day an American president will call it what it was and symbolically ask forgiveness. Could it be the current president? Will this happen in my lifetime? Did my ancestors take part? Have I? Yes, for every thought of prejudice, for any thought that borders ignorance approaching hatred, I have taken part.
The Holocaust. As a boy in 8th grade history class I first learned about genocide. I was incredulous. I could understand how nations could fight over a border dispute or control or power or “preemptively.” But I had no concept of people killing another person nor being purposefully cruel to another human being because of race, skin color, physical features, or religion. For my Jewish friends, this was not new history; for me it was an awakening. One from which I could not go back or hide. I can’t explain why, but the injustice of it, the cruelty, would not leave my consciousness. I didn’t choose genocide as a cause; it chose me as a life commitment. I believe it started at age 13. Although only a couple of decades in prior history, this genocide still had the aspect of ancient history. I believed “never again.” I was so glad we had the example that would cause us to never let it happen again.
Cambodia. I was 19. This was the first genocide on my watch and it felt that way. But I felt utter powerlessness. Fully distraught. It was half a world away. It might as well have been another planet.
Rwanda. I was distracted in starting a new company. The father of young children. Yet I can close my eyes and still see the images of the first report I read of a plane going down with two African presidents. Then more images on the news. The world was now a much smaller place. This was on my watch, and in my back yard. I was not powerless, but I failed the Rwandan people. The Interahamwe played the Western and outside world and won, long enough to take the life of 1 in 8 Rwandans. Afterwards, I knew I was one with Rwandans. I had failed my own people.
Darfur. I know and have met Darfuris. This is the first genocide declared a genocide by a currently serving American president. I no longer feel powerless. I am not ignorant of the atrocities. I commit to acting. I am not alone.