Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Prize winner, inspires Denver one community at a time

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, visited two at-risk Denver communities yesterday, not to preach peace but to preach "harmony."

For Menchú Tum and Mayan spiritual teachers Don Pedro Yac Noj and Doña Faviana Cochoy Alva, who are traveling with her, the distinction between the two is as glaring as night and day. "Peace is a reaction in the face of war," Yac Noj explains, "but harmony is different. Harmony is living the good life. We don't need war for peace."

Menchú Tum and her spiritual guides spoke to communities in Westwood and Park Hill about this key difference, urging listeners not to seek "the peace of war, of arms [or] of weapons," but to "build harmony collectively." This message of hope resounded deeply within the two communities, which have been plagued by gang violence and constant upheaval.

In Westwood, as Menchú Tum toured the newly revived community garden, PeaceJam affiliate Rudy Balles revealed a tattoo of the Nobel prize winner on his upper arm -- his personal homage to a woman who "saved his life," Balles said. He first met Menchú Tum when he was a kid attending a PeaceJam event; at the time, he was heavily involved with gang activity, believing that "the only solution was behind the barrel of a gun." But the Menchú Tum's example inspired him to renounce violence and to eventually become the director at a gang rescue group, working with at-risk youth. "It's emotional for me to have Rigoberta here... to speak to them as she spoke to me. She's a hero," Balles proclaimed.

Balles's awe and appreciation was echoed by Terrance Roberts, the founder and director of Prodigal Son Initiative, a program that helps at-risk youth in the metro area. A native of Park Hill, Roberts is trying to end gang violence in a neighborhood that is still recovering from a recent act of arson. "This is a dream, this is rare, this is a blessing," Roberts enthused when asked about the significance of having Menchú Tum visit his community. "With Rigoberta here... we're literally going from ashes to art in this community."

Yet the most significant of Menchú Tum's activities in the area is yet to come: Tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., she, Yac Noj and Cochoy Alva will be speaking about the ancient Mayan predictions for the year 2012 at the Naropa University's Nalanda Campus.

Will 2012 mark the end of the world as we know it? Yac Noj shook his head when asked that question. "It is the closing of one cycle. It is possibility," he explained. During "2012 Revealed," an innovative PeaceJam event, Menchú Tum and her spiritual guides will explore how you can become a strong leader in times of uncertainty.

The event will also feature the author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, as well as the Grammy-nominated Nawang Khechog. For more information, visit

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Erin Bilir
Contact: Erin Bilir