Minnesota Liberians celebrate Peace Prize

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 7, 2011 - 10:07 PM

Pride swelled Friday as word raced through the Twin Cities' Liberian community: Two Liberian women were among this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners.

"I was like, 'Wow! We have made history again!'" said Metchien Richards, owner of the African Forest restaurant in Brooklyn Park and a native of Liberia. "It's a joyous occasion."

Angelique Cooper-Liberty called the moment "amazing."

She has followed the careers of both Liberian women honored with the Nobel Prize. "If you look at what they've done, they've earned it," she said.

Minnesota has the largest Liberian population in the nation, estimated at 25,000.

The Nobel committee honored three women with the 2011 Peace Prize: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, a women's rights activist in Liberia, and Tawakkul Karmen, a democracy activist in Yemen.

Sirleaf, nicknamed the "Iron Lady," first made history in 2005, becoming Africa's first democratically elected female head of state. In 2009, she electrified the crowd at a speech she gave at the University of Minnesota.

(Sirleaf is up for re-election; elections will be held Tuesday. Local Liberians will hold a prayer service for a peaceful election at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Miracle Empowerment Center, 5801 John Martin Drive in Brooklyn Center.)

Gbowee was honored for her long history of fighting for the rights of women and against rape. She now works in Ghana as the director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa.

At the Unique Beauty Salon in Brooklyn Park, Dehcontee Browne shook a can of hairspray over a client's well-groomed head as she beamed about having not one, but two Nobel Prize winners, from her homeland.

"Strong women -- we've got strong women in Liberia," she said.

In conversations at beauty shops, churches, restaurants and over text messages, local Liberians chatted excitedly about the news.

After seeing her country for so long mired in civil war, Mercy Kennedy said she was glad to see Liberia starting a new chapter.

"Now we are making history in the positive way," she said. "It gave me more encouragement that whatever you want to do, you must be willing to do it and focus. At the end you will achieve it."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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