We met on a train to Caux, in Switzerland. I looked and smelled plane-wrinkled. She wore black, fine gold earrings, a silk scarf, and a timeless designer handbag.
Shontaye is not a material girl. She also prefers to be called Shon. But as I learned on that train ride through breathtaking Swiss landscapes: Every girl deserves one nice bag!
Shon would become a friend, a mentor, an older sister to me. And the coordinator of the largest international forum for human security.
I would learn that she had always been a traveler; her father was an army man. A man of service who never complained; he made her want to serve too.
That her mother had always believed in giving thanks by paying forward, and raised her on the value of volunteering. That she had married her love and best friend on their only non-working day: a Tuesday. That she loved cream and sugar with her tea. That she loved tea, period. But that day on that train ride we were both still friendly strangers heading the same way.
Trains, buses and planes took her to Europe, Africa, North America.
To places where to be different was a threat, to be a woman was to be thought inferior, to be African American was to be considered second class.
She met people who did not want to touch her hand because of the color of her skin, but also people who shared the same values and believed difference makes friendships rich.
She realized people are just people, beneath race, religion, gender. That peace is about connection and dialogue, replacing a label with a name.
What if all warring parties could have honest conversations? What if every person could feel safe? What if global change really began with one person changing their mind?
Shon joined Initiatives of Change in the United States in 2004. In 2012, she joined the organizing team for the Forum for Just Governance for Human Security. Human Security is defined as ‘the freedom from fear and want.’ It means everyone has a right to good governance, social and economic inclusion, food security, sustainable living, and healing memory.
She became the Forum’s Coordinator and Chair of the Executive Committee. Under her stewardship, it has grown from a three-day conference to a six-day event gathering over 300 participants from 52 countries… and counting. They come, as individuals, from the public, private, and civil society sectors to exchange ideas, network, and collaborate. Having brought the speakers, participants, contributors together, Shon steps back, sips her tea, and watches the magic begin.
Five years after we met, she still wears black, fine gold earrings, a silk scarf. Her elegant handbag completes her look, as does her signature laugh.
With good humor, resilience, she really is changing the world, advancing human security through dialogue. Then in her free time she watches her favorite shows, spends time with friends and family, travels, cooks.