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Civil rights leader is 2019 UMass Lowell Peace Scholar

Civil rights leader Fania Davis is UMass Lowell's 2019 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies.

LOWELL, Mass. – Fania Davis, a civil rights attorney who pursued her path as a justice-seeker and healer after the murder of two of her childhood friends, is UMass Lowell’s 2019 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies. Previous honorees have included Nobel Peace Prize winners Tawakkol Karman and Leymah Gbowee.

Davis, who is based in California, is the founder and director of Restorative Justice of Oakland Youth (RJOY), an organization that works to transform public schools and juvenile court systems. The organization seeks to rehabilitate offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community as an alternative to punitive “zero-tolerance” policies, with an eye toward reducing racial disparities and the public costs of school suspensions and expulsions, along with prison incarcerations for youths of color.

A lawyer, writer and scholar, Davis came of age in Birmingham, Ala., amid the social and political upheaval set in motion by the civil rights movement. On Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, white supremacists bombed the city’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four African-American girls and injuring 14 others. Two of the dead were Davis’ friends. Viewed today as a watershed moment in U.S. history, the act triggered riots and public condemnation across the country and for Davis, it crystalized in her commitment to social transformation. In the decades since, Davis has worked as a civil rights activist and attorney, earned her doctoral degree in indigenous studies and apprenticed with traditional healers in Africa and across the globe. Widely recognized for her work, she has been honored by the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, is the recipient of an Ebony POWER 100 Award and has been named a New Civil Rights Leader of the 21st century by the Los Angeles Times.

As the Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies, Davis will lead a series of programs for UMass Lowell students, faculty, staff and the community, beginning on Tuesday, April 2 when she will be the keynote speaker at the annual Day Without Violence. The free event for the campus and community runs from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the O’Leary Library Learning Commons, Room 222, 61 Wilder St., Lowell. Free parking will be available in the nearby Wilder Lot.

Greeley Scholars are selected for their achievements as humanitarians and their efforts promoting peace and conflict resolution at the local, regional, national or international level. The honor is named for the late Rev. Dana McLean Greeley, who was a longtime Unitarian Universalist minister in Concord. Davis’ lifetime commitment to peace-building quickly led to her selection as this year’s scholar, according to Robert Gamache, the UMass Lowell professor emeritus who co-directs the Greeley Scholar Advisory Committee and the university’s Peace and Conflict Studies Institute with Imogene Stulken, campus minister.

“Fania Davis is a leading international expert on restorative justice, which is justice that is crafted so that it heals and leads to sustainable peace,” Gamache said.

“Davis’ visit to UMass Lowell allows for a variety of opportunities for members of the university, the Greater Lowell community and other UMass campuses to interact with her,” Stulken said.

During her stay, Davis will also lead class presentations for UMass Lowell and Lowell High School students, among other events. For more about the Day Without Violence and other local appearances by Davis, visit

As a Greeley Scholar, Davis joins an esteemed list of human rights leaders who have also received the honor. They include Nobel Peace Prize winners Karman, a human rights activist known as “the lady of the Arab Spring,” and Gbowee, a grassroots organizer who helped end the Second Liberian Civil War; Noy Thrupkaew, whose investigative reporting has exposed human trafficking and labor exploitation across the globe; women’s rights activist and peace-builder Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini; Albie Sachs, an architect of South African democracy and contemporary of Nelson Mandela; John Prendergast, human rights activist and founder of The Enough Project; Linda Biehl, who forgave the South African men who killed her daughter Amy and now works with them to teach about restorative justice and reconciliation; Padraig O’Malley, award-winning author and expert on democratic transitions in societies including South Africa, Northern Ireland and Iraq; and the late Gavriel Salomon, who founded and directed the Center for Research on Peace Education in Israel.

The Greeley Scholar program is funded by the Greeley Endowment for Peace Studies, established with a gift from the Dana McLean Greeley Foundation for Peace and Justice and a contribution from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts via the UMass Foundation.

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