On a fateful day in 2003, Leymah Gbowee gathered 2,500 women outside of dictator Charles Taylor’s executive mansion and spoke directly to the man who was behind a horrifying catalogue of atrocities, violence and rape. “The first time I saw a dead body I was 17,” remembered Gbowee. “At 31, I could jump over a dead body and not think twice.”
She was able to build up enough social pressure to help end the country’s bloody four-year civil war—and was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. The dynamic Gbowee sat down to speak with Women in the World founder Tina Brown at the organization’s first-ever event in Chicago and discussed her audacious women-led peace movement, which served as a sort of societal “sponge” for the war-torn country of Liberia: “We absorbed all of that dirt, but had nowhere to squeeze it,” she said. “We got angry—in a good way.”
Education for women is desperately needed in the West African country, where violence still rages, and Gbowee also spoke about the all-girls technical high school she plans to build in Liberia by 2017.
Later, entrepreneurs Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, who bring relief to disaster zones with their innovative solar-powered, inflatable light called LuminAID, also took the stage. For their innovative solution, Toyota honored the LuminAID co-founders with the 2014 Mothers of Invention award.
Chicago’s gang-related violence also inspired another female pioneer. Sally Hazelgrove, founder of the Crushers Club, a boxing and community club that keeps boys in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods off the streets, talked about how boxing was like life, saying “It’s a great outlet for anger.” Started four years ago, Crushers today has more than 90 members and is helping to make a positive impact on the neighborhood.
Guests departed with Gbowee’s searing memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, a rich narrative of this inspiring woman’s journey from despair to empowerment.
For more, watch the full interview: