Adela Dwyer-Saint Thomas of Villanova Peace Award

Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis accepted the award this year.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, the Adela Dwyer-Saint Thomas of Villanova Peace Award Ceremony took place. This year’s recipient was the Poor People’s Campaign and was accepted by co-chairs Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis. Past recipients of the award include Habitat for Humanity, Congressman John Lewis and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

This award recognizes outstanding contributions to justice and peace in communities, and the award committee consists of the Center for Peace and Justice Education staff. The award recipients were introduced by Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, who outlined the organization and the recipients to the audience. 

The originalPoor People’s Campaign was founded by Martin Luther King Jr., who organized a 1968 March on Washington for economic justice for poor people. This organization is a “national call for moral revival,” and seeks to mobilize the poor to be the voices of the campaign. It does this through rallies and contact with politicians to promote a moral agenda that strengthens and empowers poor people.

Rev. Washington-Leapheart introduced the recipients as well. Rev. Theoharis is the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice and is an ordained minister. She is the author of “Always with Us: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor,”and was deemed one of 15 faith leaders to watch by the Center for American Progress. Rev. Barber is the author of four books, has given hundreds of keynote addresses and has been regularly featured on major news outlets including MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times. He is the former President of the North Carolina NAACP. Together, they call for each person to take a stance together to form a peace economy, instead of a war economy.

Father Kevin DePrinzio presented the award to the Poor People’s Campaign, stating how clear it was why the award committee discerned the recipient, and he cited how critical it is to amplify the cries from the most vulnerable.

Rev. Theoharis accepted the award “on behalf of hundreds of thousands of poor leaders that have come together across the country.” She highlighted the moral agenda of the Poor People’s Campaign to recognize five interlocking injustices: systemic racism, systemic poverty, the war economy and militarism, ecological devastation and the denial of healthcare and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism. Through the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Theoharis said, the poor can come together on a path of a genuine era of human rights. This is critical because for so long the poor have been disorganized, so there is no viable way for them to have a voice. Their voice is so essential, because 43.5% of Americans are considered poor or low income, according to Rev. Theoharis, and the institutions behind this need to be addressed. 

During her acceptance of the award, Rev. Theoharis also addressed those that believe the campaign is far too ambitious. To this, Rev. Theoharis said that the benefits of their agenda far outweigh the costs. Their agenda follows the belief that when you lift from the bottom, everyone rises. As Rev. Barber said, there is a true contradiction to not letting the poor be at the center of the movement. He said that it is quite problematic to have faith leaders praying over political leaders who are preying on the poor and marginalized. The Poor People’s Campaign allows the poor to gain autonomy from political leaders constantly keeping them from success and survival. They also call for a revival of people interested in the movement, as they start to look towards their next series of rallies. In previous years, they flooded state capitals for six weeks to call for action and show that poverty exists among many.