The A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series at Hope College will highlight the life and thought of the peace activist, who was a 1905 Hope graduate, with two events this year: the screening of a documentary film on April 16 and the series’ annual keynote address on April 17.
The documentary “A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace/Finding True North” by Dr. David Schock will be shown on Tuesday, April 16, at 7 p.m. in room 1000 of the A. Paul Schaap Science Center. The address “What Would A.J. Muste Do Today?” will be presented on Wednesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall by Mary Neznek, a 1970 Hope graduate who is an award-winning disabilities advocate and lobbyist working on nonviolent conflict resolution positions in Middle East conflict zones.
The public is invited to both events. Admission is free.
Muste (1885-1967), who was one of the most well-known and influential peace activists in the United States, worked for many years as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith pacifist organization. He spoke out against the nation’s involvement in every war from World War I through the Vietnam War. In his quest for peace he generated controversy for being arrested for participating in protests in the U.S. and meeting with leaders like Ho Chi Minh, yet he also demonstrated in Moscow’s Red Square against nuclear testing.
Muste was born in the Netherlands and grew up in Grand Rapids. After graduating from Hope, he earned degrees from both the Reformed Church in America’s New Brunswick Theological Seminary and the non-denominational Union Theological Seminary. His frustration with economic and social injustice drew him to communism for a time, but he ultimately rejected it and returned to the church.
The documentary “A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace/Finding True North” covers Muste’s origins through his return to Christian pacifism in the 1930s, and features archival images and draws on interviews conducted with historians and people who knew him. The interviews were conducted by Schock, an award-winning independent filmmaker who was formerly a member of the college’s communication and English faculty, and Dr. Kathleen Verduin, a professor of English who chairs the committee that organizes the A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series. The film runs slightly more than an hour.
Neznek completed graduate work in Arabic literature at Harvard and Georgetown universities, with an MS in Arabic literature and linguistics and a joint MA degree in Arab studies from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. During that period, she was a founding member of the National Capitol Presbytery’s Middle East Working Group and did educational programs to support Rev. Carol Weir and Dr. Lucille Levin, whose husbands were hostages in Lebanon. She was also an editor and public affairs specialist for a number of nongovernmental organizations in the Washington area, working on models of nonviolent conflict resolution and social justice programs in Israel/Palestine and other conflict areas. She traveled to Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, the Golan Heights in occupied Syria and to Libya with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
She later completed doctoral course work (abd) at George Mason University School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where she specialized in the effect of conflict and trauma on children and methods of nonviolent conflict structures to deal with domestic conflict and Middle East conflict zones using techniques of restorative justice. During that time, she served on the founding board of a restorative justice program for adjudicated youth in the DC Superior Courts and as executive director of PeaceLinks, a network of congressional spouses.
She received a master’s degree in working with children and adolescents with severe behavior and learning disorders, and for the last l8 years worked in a private psychiatric treatment center and in the District of Columbia Public Schools with special-needs children. She was also an adjunct instructor at Trinity and the Catholic University of America’s teacher training institute during her tenure as a special education teacher.
Recently retired, Neznek currently works with a group of writers in the Washington area and with faculty from the University of Iowa Writers Center on projects related to her professional working experience as well as lobbying the D.C. City Council with Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Congress with Churches for Middle East Peace.
In 1987, she received the University of Pennsylvania Janet Stevens Award for work as a public advocate for U.S.-Arab relations. In l993, she received the Churches for Middle East Peace leadership award for promoting better understanding of root causes of US-Middle East conflict.
Neznek received her BA from Hope in social studies, emphasizing history, political science and anthropology. Her activities as a student included a spring 1967 Hope study trip to areas of rural poverty in Kentucky and Alabama, as well as to Selma, Montgomery and the Southern Normal School (supported by the Reformed Church in America) in Brewton, Alabama. During her junior year, she participated in the Near East Studies Program in Beirut, Lebanon.
The A.J. Muste Memorial Lecture series, which was established in 1985, annually features a speaker who focuses on topics related to peace and reconciliation. Since 1988, Muste has also been remembered on campus with the A.J. Muste Alcove, which is a study alcove in the Van Wylen Library. A commissioned bust of Muste sculpted by Dr. Ryan Dodde, a 1989 Hope graduate who is a plastic surgeon, was added to the alcove in November.
The A. Paul Schaap Science Center is located at 35 E. 12th St., at the corner of 12th Street and College Avenue. Graves Hall is located at 263 College Ave., between 10th and 12th streets.