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Courage Through a New Lens

February 13, 2014 Think THF

Courage is a word we hear a lot. Sometimes it feels appropriate – when a newscaster talks about a soldier departing for a tour of duty or a first responder enduring personal risk to help others. Sometimes it seems overblown – like a sports announcer describing a coach’s call at the end of a game. Its usage has become so commonplace; in fact, it’s a word that can be easy to ignore.

On Monday, February 3, I was among the 400 people who heard Jessica Buchanan tell her story at the second annual National Day of Courage at The Henry Ford – an event to commemorate the extraordinary courage of the civil rights icon, Rosa Parks. Jessica was a young aid worker teaching children in Somalia how to avoid the dangers of land mines and unexploded munitions when she and a co-worker were kidnapped and held in captivity for 93 days. Their ordeal ended in January 2012 when they were rescued by the brave men of the U.S. Navy, Seal Team 6.

Without question, Jessica’s survival and rescue were acts of courage. Her strength and resiliency kept her alive then and keeps her moving forward now. But to me, her tale of courage began long before her kidnapping.


From all accounts, Jessica was a bright, capable young woman. Fresh out of college, she could have chosen a career in any field she wanted. She chose to commit her time and her talents to helping improve the lives of people half a world away. Working first in Kenya and then in Somalia, Jessica put herself in danger to make the world a little bit safer for others.

Nelson Mandela once said that “courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Jessica Buchanan knew the risk she was taking when she chose to work in war-torn Africa. She wasn’t naïve or fearless. But she went anyway. And she almost paid the ultimate price.

When asked by a student at Monday’s event, Jessica said she’d still go again, even knowing what she knows now. Her belief in making a difference in this world is that strong. Her willingness to sacrifice for that belief has not wavered.

To me, that’s the real courage in this story – standing strong in your conviction to do the right thing, even if it means sacrificing your own comfort and safety for the greater good. I don’t know of a better way to honor the conviction and sacrifice of Rosa Parks than in remembering a similarly selfless act of courage by another young woman nearly 50 years later.

Matthew J. Wesaw is Executive Director Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

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