Monday, May 09, 2011

A wildly successful awareness event

On April 27th, a large coalition of faith groups, refugee service organizations and STAND students came together to put on a wildly successful genocide awareness and prevention event in Chapel Hill, N.C. To make a long story short, these groups planned and worked for months to put together an event for Holocaust Remembrance Week and Genocide Awareness Month that celebrated survivors and liberators in our community, screened “The Last Survivor” documentary and held a discussion with the film’s co-director.

We squeezed 260 people into the sold-out theater and turned away about 50 people. We had three local mayors, two town council members and a state representative attend and participate in the celebration ceremony. We celebrated 12 survivors of the Holocaust and violence in Congo and celebrated 6 U.S. army veterans who liberated Nazi concentration camps. In fact, a veteran met for the first time a concentration camp survivor that he liberated – both now living in our community.

The movie had its usual powerful effect on the audience and especially drew praise from the survivors – who celebrated the film’s attempt to focus not just on the past. The conversation afterwards with the film’s co-director was powerful and inspiring, with a good conversation about what people can do to help prevent future crimes against humanity. People left motivated and engaged and determined.

The success of this event stands in stark contrast to the first Interfaith Coalition meeting held so many months ago at the beginning of my fellowship year - where only one person showed up. Some of the reasons why I think this event worked so well include:

**Strong coalitions. There was not one single group that planned this event. We made sure to involve groups such as the local Jewish federation, local church and mosques, refugee resettlement agencies, a Holocaust Speaker’s Bureau, and the local STAND chapter right from the early days. Asking them to come, have a booth and participate gave them ownership and motivation to promote to their constituencies.
**Involving local survivors. Bringing real survivors who live among us brought a very tangible, emotional power to the evening that simply showing the film would not have achieved.
**Planning far in advance. We began planning for this event late last year – a full five months before it happened. Of course, most work was done closer to the event but we got on elected officials’ calendars early, got out in front of other Holocaust Remembrance events and were well organized to get media attention.

What made some of your events better than others?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day, here is an old blog post I did about an iPod and a desert dress:

Tale Of Two Little Girls

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Updated Darfur speaker website

It's been a long time coming, but I finally got around to refreshing my other blog - which is focused on creating speaking opportunities. Many people are looking for a resource for an event, but have trouble finding new and interesting ways of raising awareness. So - my goal is to help as much as I can.

Check it out at and please spread the word about this site. You never know who might be listening to you on Facebook or Twitter that needs help with an event.



Thursday, March 03, 2011

Words to launch a new class of Fellows

With emotions and expectations running high, a new class of Carl Wilkens Fellows gathered in Washington, D.C., last month to launch a roller-coaster ride of a year. They embarked on a journey that will both challenge them and encourage them, mess with their emotions and motivate them, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime building the political will to end crimes against humanity.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. The Carl Wilkens Fellowship (CWF) with the Genocide Intervention Network is a truly unique program. I had the privilege of not only being a part of the 2009 class, but also helping the 2011 class during the retreat in February.

It was interesting seeing them go through the same emotions, express the same concerns, and feel the same sense of "finding their tribe" that I did as a fellow. We all tend to be so idealistic, motivated and leaders in our own way. We suffer from MPD - multiple passion disorder - and all desire to see an end to genocide. In this environment, its easy to start comparing ourselves to the other fellows and that can breed anxiety. It's also a recipe for us to just launch out and try to do as many things as possible, without taking the time to think things through.

So here are some parting words of advice for the 2011 Class as they begin their community leadership journey:
-Stay true to yourself and your community. Understand your skills, gifts and spheres of influence and don't get distracted by comparing yourself to others.
-Take the time to plan strategically. You can waste so much energy by rushing forward too fast.
-Build relationships. Your connections to people will last much longer than your fellowship year.
-Dream big and act small. Make sure you set your sight on big plans for change, but break down that plan into bite-size pieces.
-Have fun. Lastly, it's so easy to get depressed and disheartened when you are trying to get friends and neighbors interested in world conflicts and motivated to act. It's important to maintain a sense of humor and have fun while pursuing your fellowship goals.

I raise my glass to all the rockstars in the 2011 class and wish you the best in your grand adventure.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Carl Wilkens to speak at UNC tonight!!

One of my personal heroes, Carl Wilkens, is coming to speak at UNC Chapel Hill tonight. He has an incredible story of staying in Rwanda throughout the genocide and helping people. His stories are powerful and the message poignant. Stop by and check it out if you are within striking distance of Chapel Hill.

When: Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.
Where: Hanes Art Center 121, UNC campus

See you there!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Has Obama forgotten Darfur?

Has Obama forgotten Darfur? This thought-provoking question is posed by Nick Kristoff in his latest op-ed in the New York Times.

This is a must-read reminder that Darfur is "still a crime scene" and that violence is steadily increasing. I will admit, I've enjoyed the lull in violence and let my own mind wander from this conflict. A bit of me wants peace so bad that it celebrates the "no news is good news" policy. Well, Kristoff reminds us that in the case of Darfur, no news does not mean good news - it just means we are ignoring the news and forgetting about the situation.

We need to wake up to the impending violence with the upcoming vote in Southern Sudan on independence. I pledge to not forget Darfur, not forget Sudan and not to forget my friends and their families.

Read more.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Video: Elon 4/11/10 rally montage

Way to go Elon!

Elon University in North Carolina held an anti-genocide rally on April 11. It was organized by the local STAND chapter and had several partners. It was great to see so many bright, young men and women spend a gorgeous day indoors to learn about ways to prevent genocide. Although the turnout wasn't as high as the organizers wanted, the local student paper showed up and covered the event and my talk.

Check out this great article by The Pendulum:

The power of the media will help this positive message spread beyond the walls of the rally. I always enjoy speaking at events like this because it inspires me to keep working to end the suffering in Darfur.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

March Madness in Sudan

In North Carolina, there's no mistaking what March Madness means. The fervor of basketball fans pushing their favorite teams to victory surrounds and seduces us all. In Sudan, March Madness stands for the craziness of pushing forward with elections already marred by bloodshed and opposition boycotts. The Sudanese elections coming in April are close to being a complete sham and sending the region back into violence and chaos. For all the warning signs, the Obama Administration has remained remarkably muted.

It is increasingly critical that Congress and the Administration pay closer attention to the situation in Darfur, ensure to their greatest ability that the national elections are free and fair, and pressure the International Criminal Court to hold al-Bashir accountable for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Rep. Brad Miller and Sen. Richard Burr need to step up and be leaders in this area. They’ve been briefed on the Obama Administration’s Sudan Policy, issued in late 2009, and are in a position of influence.

So as this year’s March Madness wraps up, let’s work together to ensure that people around the world have the freedom to cheer on their favorite teams and political leaders to victory without fear of violence.

Pick-up the phone and dial 1-800-GENOCIDE on Monday, April 5, and we’ll connect you with your Senators and Representatives. Tell Congress and the Obama Administration that the situation in Sudan cannot be ignored for much longer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Introducing CGAN

One of the biggest frustrations I had with my time as a fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network was the lack of communication among local genocide activists. I would hear about cool events AFTER they were over. I talked to people all over the Triangle region of N.C. who felt they were alone in their genocide prevention efforts, when just around the corner there was another person feeling the same way.

So, how can we stay connected? What about a wiki - a web site that anyone can edit - to create an online presence?

Thus, the idea for the Carolina Genocide Action Network (CGAN) was born. The CGAN is an informal, low-maintenance community of men and women who care about genocide prevention issues. It's targeted to people who live in North and South Carolina, but all are welcome.

So check it out, join the wiki, leave an update and let me know what you think. Is this the right direction for us to go?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two positive recent developments - dare we hope?

In the world of genocide prevention advocacy, we’re used to bad news. In fact, we sort of brace ourselves for the worst even while hoping for the best. That’s a trait beat into us from years of seeing oppressors escape justice for mass atrocities while the general American public blithely ignores what is happening.

Well, take heart. There have been two recent developments of note in regard to Darfur. It’s too early to declare victory on either one of these, but hopefully they are the early signs of a positive turnaround.

1. International Court Paves the Way to Charge Bashir with Genocide
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could face genocide charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) after a legal ruling over his role in the conflict in Darfur. Bashir, who already faces an arrest warrant on seven charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, is now eligible to charged with genocide after an appeals court overturned a previous ruling stating there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with genocide.

If the ICC decided to bring charges of genocide against Bashir, it would be the first time it has done so against a sitting head of state. It goes without saying that this would be monumental on many levels, including sending a major warning shot to other oppressors interested in similar tactics. Read more here.

2. New Truce Between Major Rebel Group and Government
The major Darfur rebel movement JEM is set to sign a truce with the Sudanese government in Doha, Qatar, this week. This agreement would mark just one in a ling string of ceasefires – but observers have high hopes for this one. Among other reasons, the Sudanese government (and Bashir in particular) is under particular pressure to demonstrate progress given item #1 above and the upcoming April elections in Sudan. If the truce holds, it will lead to more detailed peace talks in March on issues such as power sharing. Can we hope for this to be a baby-step in the right direction?

Of course, JEM isn’t the only rebel group fighting in Darfur and therefore this peace deal is limited in scope. Success will also be determined by the extent that Sudan and JEM can include the other groups and not alienate them in this process. Read more here.

So, here are two positive recent developments – dare we to celebrate? Not yet. History is littered with false starts.

We’ll keep a close eye on both and keep praying that they ultimately lead to the end of suffering in Darfur and Eastern Chad.

Monday, January 25, 2010

State of the Union: Will Obama mention genocide?

As a Triangle resident who grew up in Sudan, I won’t be drinking shots every time President Obama says “jobs” as I watch this week’s State of the Union address. Nor will I scrutinize every word for subtle signs of socialism. I will be looking for a young president to live up to his campaign promises of change as it pertains to the most egregious of all crimes: genocide.

President Obama has chosen to deliver his first State of the Union Address on same day as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This provides him with an incredible opportunity to be the first president to declare a commitment and plan to abolish genocide.

Further, President Obama should specifically call on the nation and the world to redouble its efforts to prevent atrocities and bloody war in Sudan. Prevention is easier and cheaper than intervention.

So - what are the odds that Obama mentions genocide during his address?

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Genocide Intervention Network web site

The Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net) is leading the national anti-genocide movement and has grown dramatically in the previous five years. Started by a small group of college students, this organization has grown to be a formidable presence in Washington, D.C. with a million dollar budget dedicated to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.

As readers of this blog know, I had the privilege of serving as a GI-Net Carl Wilkens Fellow in 2009. I intend to remain active and connected with GI-Net in the years to come.

This is one of the main reasons I am excited to see GI-Net update its brand and its web presence. As a senior communications specialist in my “day job” I understand the importance of a good web site and strong identity. I hope the new web site will foster the global genocide prevention movement by being easy to follow, easy to engage and easy to take action.

Check out the new site: What do you think? Does it meet the needs of our growing movement?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

STANDFast: Stories of Survivors (12/1/09 at UNC-CH)

Here’s an upcoming event at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ll be there – come out and join us!

On December 1st, join UNC’s chapter of STAND, formerly SUDAN, in fasting from a luxury— like coffee, facebook, or food— for a day.

Sign up to fast at

Last year, participants raised almost $2,500. That money helped build two wells for 1,000 villagers in Chow Lek, Sudan. They no longer have to scoop their drinking water out of a shallow, muddy hole used by animals.

But we can’t stop there.

On the night of Dec. 1st, we will break the fast in the Student Union Great Hall at 6:30 p.m. Your donation ($5 suggested) will go to support one of STAND’s humanitarian aid campaigns. We will explain more the night of the fast!

There will be food donated by local restaurants like Jimmy John's, Jack Sprat and Chipotle! And UNC student dancers and singers will perform!

Following dinner, genocide survivors will share their experiences and answer questions.

Co Sponsors: James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence and the Student Life Enhancement Fund

Please sign up to fast at and join the facebook event at Invite friends!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Event this Friday

Spread the word! Free food and film screening this Friday!

The Interfaith Coalition for Sudanese Peace invites you to join us for a free pizza dinner and screening of the documentary “Facing Sudan.” This documentary captures the stories of various “ordinary” people like you and me and highlights their courage and the fight to end genocide in Darfur. Scott Sutton, a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network, will lead a brief discussion and provide an update on current events in Darfur.

This is a low-key, informal event that will be thought provoking as well as encouraging. It will be a great opportunity to introduce new people to the current situation in Darfur. Even if you can’t make it, please invite at least TWO other people to attend the screening.

What: Free food and film screening hosted by the Interfaith Coalition for Sudanese Peace.
When: Friday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.
Where: Connections Community Space, 1280 Buck Jones Road, Raleigh, NC
Why: Because you want to learn more about Darfur, because you are moved to stop human suffering, because you want to do your part to raise awareness, and because there is free food!
RSVP: Send a reply to Scott at suttonsa [at] gmail [dot]com by Wed., Nov. 18

A note regarding children: The event is open to everyone and children are encouraged to attend. However, there will be graphic images in the film as it deals with the real death and destruction in Darfur.

I look forward to seeing you on the 20th.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Rape Bystanders No Longer

If you saw a 15-year old girl getting raped in an alley – would you stop it or cheer it on? Last month, this brutal scenario played out at a high school dance in California where police say more than 20 people stood, watched and jeered the two-hour gang-rape of a young woman. As a nation, we are now wrestling with the brutality of these abusers and the unfathomable lack of action from the bystanders. We are rightly enraged by the lack of action to stop human suffering and are pursuing criminal charges where possible.

Before we cast stones, we must realize that you and I are already bystanders to rape and massive human suffering. We have stood by as more than 400,000 men, women and children were murdered in Darfur. We are still standing by as the rapes, torture, starvation and suffering continues unabated for those left alive.

The good news is that there is a growing movement to end genocide and mass atrocities and it’s not too late to prevent the next great human tragedy. This past weekend, more than 800 students and adults gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Pledge2Protect conference organized by the Genocide Intervention Network. On Monday, the North Carolina delegation met with Sens. Burr and Hagan to urge them to make “never again” a reality. One unique aspect of this round of advocacy was the use of videos from North Carolinians in addition to “old fashioned” talking, to make the point to our elected representatives.

I urge you – yes you, the one reading this blog post - to refuse to be a bystander to genocide and take action with us. The first step to joining the anti-genocide conversation in the Triangle region of North Carolina is to join the Interfaith Coalition for Sudanese Peace for free food, a film screening and discussion on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at 1280 Buck Jones Rd, Raleigh, N.C. RSVP to Scott at: suttonsa {at} gmail {dot} com.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pledge2Protect Conference on Twitter

Right now, as I write this brief blog post, hundreds of anti-genocide activists, elected officials and experts are meeting in Washington, D.C. This conference, called Pledge2Protect is the anti-genocide movement's largest conference ever and is a collaboration between the Genocide Intervention Network, SaveDarfur and the Enough Project.

For those of us unlucky to not be there, you can follow along with participants on Twitter. Many attendees are tweeting about what they see and hear - it's almost as good as the real thing. Check it out by following @pledge2protect if you have a Twitter account, or go to:

I'm praying that this conference is meaningful and results in action, not merely just talk.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama’s new Sudan policy released

The Obama Administration finally unveiled its comprehensive plan to bring peace to Sudan today at an event attended by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and Special Envoy to Sudan Gen. Scott Gration. These three administration heavyweights said many good things about their intentions in the news conference, but the question still remains about their implementation.

Many in the activist community have a great deal of concern about what they see as a real gap between the administration’s rhetoric and its day-to-day diplomacy with the Sudanese government. President Obama must be firm in his promise to lead a more urgent multi-lateral peace process. U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration must work to build an international coalition for the meaningful implementation of the North-South peace deal, and implement a policy that creates real consequences for those who continue to attack civilians, block life-saving aid, undermine peace and justice.

For more information on this major development, please check out the following resources:
• View the video of the State Department’s news conference
• View the Washington Post preview article on the Sudan Policy
• View a video response from Sam Bell, Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network
• View an op-ed in the LA Times by John Prendergast, Co-founder of ENOUGH!

Take action: Call 1-800-GENOCIDE and urge President Obama to implement his new strategy and keep his campaign promises on Sudan.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cookies for a dictator?

In an article in the Washington Post, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration is quoted as saying, "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."

He said this on the eve of a major Sudan policy review by the new Obama Administration and that comment, among other statements, is raising eyebrows across the Darfur peace movement.

Cookies for a Sudanese government that has repeatedly broken promises? Cookies for a Sudanese government that expelled humanitarian groups, thus endangering the lives of millions, but then insisted on getting a reward for letting these same groups back in?

I believe the main concern from the Darfur peace movement’s leaders is that these Gration statements reflect the Administration's official Sudan policy. Such an apparently "soft" approach flies in the face of the bold statements and commitments to action made by former Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton on the campaign trail.

The leaders of the Enough Project, Save Darfur Coaltion and the Genocide Intervention Network released a statement in response. To quote Sam Bell, the director of the Genocide Intervention Network: “If Washington is going to start taking war criminals at their word, despite the long list of Khartoum's broken commitments, an even larger tragedy will soon unfold.” [Full disclosure: I am a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow with the Genocide Intervention Network]

Personally, I want to trust the Envoy. I want to believe that offering incentives is shortest route to ending the suffering of my friends and their families in Darfur. If his tactics have gained him the trust and ear of the Government of Sudan (GoS), then perhaps cookies are what need to be served.

However, the leader of the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group was quoted in the Sudan Tribune on Sept. 28 saying the Envoy “does not have a program or strategy for a solution” in Darfur. This does not give me condidence that Gration has the trust of the rebels, who will be key in ending this mess.

So…is Gration fumbling away a chance for real peace by losing the confidence of a key ally in JEM, or is his strategy of paying attention and giving “cookies” to the GoS the right focus and key to long-term solutions? Let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heading to Washington

I'm headed to Washington DC this weekend for the second Carl Wilkens Fellowship retreat. I look forward to a good time of catching up with the other 20 fellows, sharing best practices re-focusing on the final months of the fellowship.

I'm going up a little early and will meet with Roger Pena, a senior legislative aide for NC Senator Kay Hagan. I look forward to this opportunity to introduce myself, our anti-genocide work and the ongoing issue in Sudan. I plan to ask Sen. Hagan to help us by sending a letter to President Obama urging him to strengthen his Sudan policy to avoid being duped by a Sudanese Government that is notorious for broken promises.

While I'm there, I might drop by Sen. Burr's office as well.

I'll let you know how the meeting goes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Strong, balanced policy needed for Sudan

It’s been nearly seven years since the Darfur genocide began. Fortunately, the conflict continues to garner much-needed attention worldwide. This is in large part due to the unprecedented number of Americans and dedicated elected officials like U.S. Representatives Brad Miller and David Price who have refused to give up on the people suffering there.

President Obama stated on March 18th that “Sudan is a priority for this Administration,” yet the Administration has failed to demonstrate the sense of urgency and executive attention that is necessary to distinguish Sudan as a true priority. The Administration has yet to release a long-overdue policy review of Sudan and has appeared focused more on rewards for the Government of Sudan instead of a balanced approach that includes punitive measures for continued intransigence. The release of an appropriately balanced policy review would help to alleviate fears that the United States will squander its leverage on continued broken promises from Khartoum.

As Senators, President Obama, Vice-President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were three of the strongest advocates for Sudan, but now that they are in the Administration we have yet to see them live up to their promises to prioritize peace in Sudan.

Sudan Now, an ad campaign coming out this week in several major news outlets, calls on Obama, Biden and Clinton to keep the promises that they’ve made to the people of Sudan. The release of the policy review on Sudan is expected within days. Obama, Biden and Clinton must take this opportunity to become a part of the process; weighing in to ensure that the policy matches up with their rhetoric. More information on the campaign can be found by visiting