2013 William D. Reimert Lecture

Reimert Lecture: Social Entrepreneur Shares Her Story


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Cedar Crest College welcomed Abigail E. Disney, filmmaker and philanthropist, to campus to present her lecture titled Why Women Matter, a discussion on how empowering women can change the lives of individuals and communities. Disney also received an honorary degree from the College prior to her lecture.

Abigail E. Disney's longtime passion for women's issues and peace building culminated in her first film, the acclaimed Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the Liberian women who peacefully ended their country's fourteen-year civil war. The film premiered in 2008 at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the honor of Best Documentary. Disney is currently executive producer of the groundbreaking PBS miniseries Women, War & Peace, the most comprehensive global media initiative ever mounted on the role of women in peace and conflict. The series has received a number of awards, including a Television Academy Honor, two Overseas Press Club Awards, two Gracie Awards, and a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association.

"For every one story like Liberia that you've heard of, I guarantee that there are a hundred that you've never heard," Disney said. "If you want to do a piece of good social justice, one of the things you could do is just tell these stories to make sure they're not forgotten."

Suzanne Weaver, M.S.W., professor of social work and gerontology at Cedar Crest, has shown Pray the Devil Back to Hell to her students since her own visit to Liberia two years ago.

"Abby shares these compelling stories, which I think has a stronger influence on people," Weaver said. "People are motivated to care by hearing stories not statistics."

Weaver, who also teaches courses in global social justice, said that Disney is the type of person her students can all look up to and aspire to be.

"Abby's passion for women's issues and peace building is on a local, national and global level," Weaver said. "I think it's such a good fit with Cedar Crest as a women's college."

"We have three Living Learning Communities all with a global justice focus in areas of art, environmental stewardship and human rights," she added, "Cedar Crest offers a global studies major, courses on peace building and global justice, and we encourage our students to travel abroad at some point during their academic career. I think Abby coming here brings it all together for us."

Disney co-founded the Daphne Foundation, which works with low-income communities in the five boroughs of New York City. She also founded Peace is Loud, which amplifies women's voices for peace building using the power of media. Disney serves as a board member for a number of organizations, including the Global Fund for Women and the Peace Research Endowment. Her work has been recognized through numerous awards, including the prestigious International Advocate for Peace (IAP) Award from the Cardozo Law School's Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution.

"I hope to leave behind at least a few people who feel lit up," Disney said about her lecture in March. "...I remember going to college and I remember just a handful of moments where I felt like I was catching fire, and that is a powerful and amazing feeling. You found the reason that you were put on this earth and you knew what your marching orders were as a human being. I hope I can leave a few people behind me that feel that way."

Disney holds degrees from Yale, Stanford, and Columbia. She has been a judge at the Tribeca Film Festival, sits on the advisory board of ITVS's groundbreaking initiative, Women and Girls Lead, and is a sought-after public speaker. She frequently travels around the country and across the globe to deliver keynote addresses, commencement speeches and lectures, and has participated in panels in diverse locations such as The Hague, Davos, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and at dozens of universities and community centers. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America.