Miami Valley Peace Heroes Trail honors peacemakers
Peace hero Amaha Sellassie — co-founder of Gem City Market, sociology professor and community organizer — poses with Catherine Queener, MVUUF member and team captain for Amaha Selassie peace hero sign. MAURY WYCKOFF / CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Cherise Hairston, (left) mediator with the Dayton Mediation Center, stands with Alysoun Taylor-Hall, MVUUF member and team captain for Dayton Mediation Center peace hero sign.
By Kari Carter
Contributing writer

In a city known for events and venues dedicated to world peace — the Dayton International Peace Museum, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Peace Heroes Walk, and the Dayton Peace Accords — the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (MVUUF) has added another: the Miami Valley Peace Heroes Trail.

The first of its kind in the nation, according to the Rev. Kellie Kelly of MVUUF, the Trail is located on MVUUF grounds and gives homage to peacemakers both alive and deceased, international and local.

Composed of a series of inspirational signs designed by Matthew Clark, the Peace Heroes Trail celebrated its opening ceremony on Oct. 31. The event had been postponed almost a year after its original ribbon cutting, which the pandemic had limited to a small, non-public affair. Had it not been for the pandemic, however, the Trail might not have been conceived in the first place, said MVUUF congregant and project coordinator Catherine Queener.

“We wouldn’t have even had a concrete, physical, in-space Peace Heroes Trail if it wasn’t for COVID,” said Queener. “We were going to have an in-person Peace Walk event that would have been filled with people when the Governor said, ‘Let’s shut down everything.

. . .’ And after a while, the leadership team just started talking and saying, ‘We have to do something, because all these people raised these funds to support peace literacy, and they deserve to have something.’”

Kelly noted that Jerry Leggett, co-founder of the 21st Century Peace Literacy Foundation, suggested they create an outdoor trail commemorating the heroes they wanted to recognize. She added that Leggett — who is also founder of the Peace Heroes Walk, former Dayton International Peace Museum Executive Director and former director of religious education at MVUUF — had helped their congregation realize that their church’s principles and activities were focused on peace literacy.

“He looked at our theology — you know, what we do as a church — and he said, ‘This is peace literacy,” said Kelly. MVUUF principles include a belief in the inherent worth of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.

Peace heroes chosen for the Trail exemplify such Unitarian Universalist principles, Queener said, as well as the rejection of vengeance and the fostering of reconciliation.

“[A peace hero] exemplifies the ability to take a risk and support non-violence in creating a more just world,” Queener explained.

“So it’s not just the absence of war.

It’s not just the absence of violence.

It’s also a more just world.

. . . The more we think about it, the more it gets incorporated into our thought processes, and that makes us all better human beings.”

After the idea for the Trail was conceived, Kelly helped put together a leadership team, including captains who would devote themselves to choosing a peace hero and fundraising in their name.

Money raised for the Peace Heroes Trail has benefited MVUUF’s peace literacy efforts in Dayton, the 21st Century Peace Literacy Foundation and a local MVUUF peace partner selected by donors. This year, Queener said, they selected Gem City Market.

Co-founder and board chair of the Gem City Market, Amaha Sellassie, also happens to be an honoree on the Peace Heroes Trail.

Other local honorees include the late Pete Davis, activist and volunteer; Dr. John Fleming, sage of African American history and museum administrator; Antonia Harter, educator and advocate; Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, advocate for immigration justice; the late Sister Dorothy Stang, activist and advocate for the rural poor; the Dayton Mediation Center; and Project Congo.

“One of the reasons we really tried to find local people,” Kelly added, “is the 21st Century Peace Literacy Foundation has a very specific definition of what a peace hero is, and it’s an everyday person.”

While anyone is welcome to visit the Trail during daylight hours,- Kelly said, the team also hopes to extend its outreach to those who cannot come in person. “We’re working on a website right now, and we’d like to have pages that are devoted to this, so that you can do almost like a virtual tour, so that we could send that information out to schools.”

Queener also envisions the Trail extending beyond its current boundaries. “Maybe we’re not just going to put in hundreds and hundreds of the signs, encircling the MVUUF building,” she said. “Maybe some of our partners are going to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to host some of those signs around our building.’ Maybe it’s going to spread across Dayton, and then across the world.”

Kelly said she also hopes the Peace Heroes Trail will inspire visitors to think more deeply about how they can be peace heroes themselves.

“Not only are we encouraging people to think about everyday people in their own communities and lives that have worked to transform conflicts,” she said, “we’re also encouraging people to think about what they can do themselves to be a peace hero.

It’s small actions that, when we do them together, spread peace literacy. Not only do we transform ourselves, but we transform each other and the world.”