Struggle for truth, justice, peace and reconciliation

Dr. Vinie Burrows, honored March 19, 2016 at a parallel event of WIDF at CSW60, 2016.

My first contact with Dr. Vinie Burrows happened in 1983 while I worked as a volunteer pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in “Hell’s Kitchen” in New York City. At that time she, as a feminist, Human Rights and peace activist, hosted a radio program, More Than Half the World, on Pacifica station WBAI in New York.

Vinie Burrows got known when she started her acting career as a child star. She still performs at the age of 91 and was honored for example by Actors Equity with their Paul Robeson Award.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, I saw Vinie Burrows perform “Myth America. Honoring Harriet Tubman”. The Granny Peace Brigade, which she had co-founded at the time of the Iraq war, had invited her to portray this enslaved Diasporan African woman who escaped bondage.

Vinie Burrows gave a lively picture of the New Afrikan woman Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), known as “Moses”, who freed many Black women out of slavery.

Coming from Switzerland I didn't know details of the historic facts of slavery and the US Civil War. Vinie Burrows succeeded in her performance to free Harriet Tubman, a “Runagate”, from her usually domesticated and patriarchal picture and showed her as the “Amazon” she was, in revealing her true life and character.

Vinie Burrows was born in Harlem. As an Afro-American with Caribbean and African ancestors she explored her roots. Confronting the history of slavery in the Caribbean is part of her creativity as an actor, poet, writer as well as a political and Human Rights activist.

In revealing not only facts, but also emotions, mentalities, and in questioning cultural conditions she has contributed to reconciliation. To speak out for truth leads to a new, reconciled, reality.

She speaks for the disenfranchised everywhere in the world: “Our mission is to empower ourselves and our sisters” and she recalls an awareness that grew within her during the course of her own life: “we know, according to the State definition, raising a child is not counted as ‘work’, but being in the military and killing is”.

And then she spoke out for Black women in the USA: “Historically, the exploitation of Black labor includes its destructive and devastating effects on Black women. Black women were never passive under slavery but always found means of resisting their oppressors. Later they were at the forefront of the civil rights movement and the fight for economic justice…”

Burrows still represents the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) at the United Nations as their main Human Rights Representative and was honored by this organization on March 19,th 2016 during the 60th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

In a recent speech in India, invited by the Indian branch of WIDF, she insisted: “Never forget it was the free involuntary forced labor of my ancestors that enabled the USA to become a monstrous power on the world stage... There is no precise account of the numbers of enslaved Africans kidnapped over a period of 400 years. Estimates range from six million to 20 million. Millions did survive the Middle Passage and millions more died in the infamous Transatlantic Slave Trade”.

Looking back to a conference in the 1970s in East-Berlin – where she had been invited as a young single mother of two, without a regular job as an actor – she realized how many of the women invited from Africa (freedom fighters in exile from South Africa, from Namibia, Angola, Mozambique) and Black women from the UK or Algeria suffered from a triple oppression: being poor, being Black and a woman.

In 1989 – a few months before the Fall of the Berlin Wall – Vinie Burrows was part of the women’s program (Women’s Boat) at the 1st European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, Switzerland. Her performance “Sister Sister” encouraged me to stand for freedom and self-determination.

Vinie lives out what she says in texts and poetry: it is a conviction of being accepted and of love for all (human) beings – a message of Justice and Peace, that moves Life forward – because (outspoken) Truth sets free.

About the author :

Rev. Esther R. Suter currently lives in Basel, Switzerland, where she was born and grew up.

After some years working as a secretary, she studied Theology, French and English at the Universities of Basel, Munich and Geneva (Ecumenical Institute Bossey), already opening up for ecumenical and interreligious questions and contacts.

Ordained as a Reformed pastor in Switzerland, she worked during ten years as a chaplain at the University Hospital in Basel. During a period working as a substitute pastor, she used times in-between placements in congregations to travel more than 30 countries, starting to report as a journalist on a variety of issues and taking lots of photos. She has lived abroad for seven years in total (working as a volunteer pastor in a poor Manhattan neighbourhood, among other experiences) and has a broad-ranging formation in Fine Arts, Asian philosophy and medicine.

Currently, she mainly works as a freelance journalist in German, French and English. She plans to finalize her doctoral thesis about a Swiss liberal theologian (Fritz Buri, 1907-1995) in 2017.

She is the vice-president of the Internationale Association of Liberal Religious Women and a member of the International Alliance of Women, representing IAW on the NGO-CSW-Commission in Geneva and as their representative for Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva. Since 2010 she regularly attends the meetings of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, in New York as an NGO delegate.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.