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Former child soldier and storyteller to speak at college
Friday, February 06, 2009

(COLUMBIA, Mo.) -- The Columbia College student development office and the Unity in the Community program are pleased to welcome Ishmael Beah, former child soldier and New York Times best-selling author, and Laura Simms, award-winning storyteller and human rights activist, to campus Feb. 19 to 21.

Beah’s acclaimed book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, tells the riveting story of how he was caught up in civil war in Sierra Leone. The book chronicles his rescue and his personal journey in rehabilitation to regain his humanity. Beah, now 27, is UNICEF’s advocate for children affected by war and is one of the world’s most tireless advocates for child soldiers and an eloquent spokesperson for the healing power of sharing the stories of one’s life.

Thursday, Feb. 19 from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., Beah will read excerpts from his book and speak about his experiences, his use of writing as a tool for resilience in the aftermath of trauma and as a means of sharing his story to advocate for human rights. The event will take place in the Dulany Hall Banquet Room. Lunch will be provided and a book signing will follow. There's space for only 136 people, so RSVP to Kim Coke, director of student development, at 875-7420 or

The American “mother” of Ishmael Beah, Laura Simms is an award-winning storyteller, recording artist, teacher, writer and humanitarian. Simms’ remarkable performances of traditional stories interwoven with personal narrative have earned her worldwide recognition and honors since 1968. She brings her expertise to collaborative projects worldwide, exploring social issues, peacemaking, creativity and community disaster dialogue. Author of The Robe of Love, her newest book, Becoming the World, has served thousands of teachers worldwide in addressing issues of tolerance and resilience.

Storytelling and compassionate action, a conversation with Laura Simms, will be held in Launer Auditorium Friday, Feb. 20. Simms’ books and CDs will be available for purchase and signing from 7-7:30 p.m. Milbre Burch, a Grammy-nominated storyteller, will interview Simms about her international work and personal storytelling from 7:30-9 p.m. The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions, too.

On Saturday, Feb. 21, a storytelling workshop will be presented by Simms from 9:30-11 a.m. at the Columbia Public Library. This workshop is aimed at teachers, librarians, storytellers, community workers, youth workers and the interested public on telling stories of peace and justice as pathways to reconciliation. The workshop is free, but registration with the library is required and limited to 40 participants. To reserve a spot, call (573) 443-3161 or email Sarah Howard at

Also on Saturday, Making Peace, Heart Uprising, A Storytelling Concert for Adults by Laura Simms, will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Launer Auditorium. The performance features stories which tap into the magic inherent in both myth and our everyday events and will be sign language interpreted.

Kim Kinyon Coke, director of student development, and Dr. Lisa Ford-Brown, associate professor of speech and humanities, were instrumental in bringing Beah and Simms to campus.

"Bringing them to Columbia College is an opportunity to hear of another's experience. There is a wealth that resides in individuals stories. It is in sharing those stories that we come to understand one another more and gain wisdom and knowledge that we didn't previously have," said Kinyon Coke. "I hope their stories will bring a new perspective, a changed understanding and inspire those that hear them speak."

A complete list of events involving Beah and Simms is available online.