Peace Educator, Activist (1942— )
Betty Burkes has come to understand the world around her through relationships, through community. She believes Peace is relational and that we can get there through the hard inner and outer work of honest dialogue and self-reflection.
Learning, listening, and teaching have always been at the heart of her long career. Growing up in working class Ohio, Betty experienced respect and support at home but racism out in the world. After college, Betty joined the Peace Corps, teaching in Ethiopia. After studying Early Childhood Education and teaching in Berkeley, California, she lived in England for many years where she studied art, dance and taught at the American School in London. In 1986, she returned to the US and opened Montessori Paradise, and Summer Center on Cape Cod. Through both programs, Betty explored the world with pre-school children, developing their respect for nature, relational skills, and self-responsibility, as well as arts, crafts and music.
In the 1980's Betty joined Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and served on the national board and as its U.S. Section President. In an interview about WILPF for Enviro Close-Up, Burkes discussed the "culture of power" in the US, where we are often taught that our way is THE way. She suggests investigating our own U.S. history of violence and deception as a way to understand the attitudes and values that live in us and shape relationships that are reflected in our national policies. She believes that educating ourselves, opening our hearts to the realities of those whose lives and views are different from our own, and joining our individual efforts with others are viable strategies for effecting change.
From 2002-2005, Burkes worked for the Hague Appeal for Peace, an organization whose goal is abolishing war and establishing peace as a human right in collaboration with the U.N. Department of Disarmament Affairs. She served as Peace Education Program Coordinator on a project in Albania, Cambodia, Niger and Peru. With in-country partners, she helped design Peace Education curricula for national school systems and programs for promoting community building and conflict resolution skills locally.
Wherever she is located, she has worked locally for global change, for racial and community justice on Cape Cod, for the environment with earth circles and with the Cambridge Peace Commission supporting sister relationships with Palestine and El Salvador, creating community peace circles and promoting peace-building.
Currently, Betty coordinates programs for “Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools". Rethink is a program that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It supports and engages Middle School youth to both envision and contribute to the rethinking of New Orleans Schools. Developing transformational leadership, critical thinking skills and community among young people with opportunities to speak to those in power is the Rethink vision.
Betty Burkes believes in a “beloved community,” where all life is valued and relational living and awareness is at the heart of human interactions. She believes that transforming the structures of power is possible through nonviolence with education that promotes inquiry and investigation, patience and love. She believes it and strives to achieve it in her life and work.