Monday, September 8, 2014


            Ishmael Beah has more in common with the main character of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick than simply his name. He is a survivor. And he has encountered pure evil.

            On August 27th attendance records for the Glenbard Parent Series were broken when almost 1,300 people attended Beah’s presentation at Glenbard West High School to hear him speak on his experiences as a thirteen year old forced to serve in the military during the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. His experiences became the basis of his celebrated book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

            For almost three years Beah was forced to serve in his government’s army. He and boys like him were manipulated with drugs and violence to fight. He was forced to commit unspeakable acts or risk certain death.

            Luckily, Beah was rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center where he got the help he needed to be de-programed from the violent behavior he’d come to know. He made his way to the United States and through his extraordinary circumstances was adopted and eventually graduated from Oberlin College.

            Beah has been named a special UNICEF Ambassador and spoken before the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations. As a writer and frequent speaker, Beah’s wants the Western world to understand the “humanity behind the war.”

            Beah often uses humor to soften the darkness of his subject matter. He quipped that while in college he could often sit for ten to twelve hours reading without moving. This is a skill he learned after having to silently crouch in the brush for that many hours waiting to ambush.  

            Primarily, Beah wants young people to understand that even under the worst conditions imaginable, “there is strength in the human spirit.”  He also wants them to know that it is wrong to glamorize violence the way Hollywood does.

            In reality, those who experience violence get caught up in it and then perpetuate it resulting in a vicious cycle that is hard to break. “Once violence starts, there is a consequence to it. It starts with words and is psychological.”

            Beah returns often to Sierra Leone and is committed to helping break the cycle.

By Suzanne Burdett – Glenbard parent