About 50 people gathered for an intimate reception and presentation at the Bemis International Center on the Saint Norbert College campus in De Pere to honor United Way of Brown County CEO Robyn Davis, who was named Peace Ambassador for 2019 by the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Public Understanding.
“I got very teary eyed because I couldn’t believe that it was happening,” Davis said of the moment she learned she’d been given the honor. “It’s really humbling to be recognized by the Norman Miller Center and the community. You just do the right thing, and you don’t do it for the recognition, but when you are recognized it just very humbling.”
The Peace Ambassador honor has been given every year since 2007, usually to a national or international figure. Past honorees include anti-death-penalty activist Sister Jean Prejean, nonviolent peace advocate Father John Dear, immigrant minister Deacon Juan Barajas and other well-known peace advocates.
Davis was chosen because peace goes beyond just avoiding or resolving conflict, said Bob Pyne, director of the Norman Miller Center.
“We want people to recognize the big view of peace,” Pyne said. “Specifically what we are looking for is somebody who is a model of peace making and peace building. So sometimes these ambassadors of peace have been actively involved in conflict resolution and helping to mediate agreements after wars and things like that. But what we saw with Robyn is she is somebody who has lived a dedicated life for human flourishing. If we talk about peace in the broad sense, that to work for human flourishing in our community is a grand way to promote peace.”
In her current role, which she took on in 2017, Davis said she helps the community achieve peace by tackling poverty.
“We’re not negotiating conflict in the traditional sense,” she said. “But peace is also the freedom from conflict. So when you think about poverty, and when you think of a whole host of other challenges that people face, bringing peace into that conversation and helping to bridge the divide.”
Davis came to the United Way after leading Freedom House Ministries for eight years, where she provided direct services to families in need. That work just made her want to do more, she said.
“It was knowing and recognizing that there were some issues and challenges that were being faced by our families beyond what we could provide,” she said. “There were certain systems in place that would still impact that family no matter what we did. And the same thing with public policy and advocacy.”
That’s why, she says, she pushes the United Way to fund direct services, while also working on changing the systems and public policies that keep people in need of those services.
Saint Norbert Interim Vice President for Mission and Student Affairs Julie Massey said Davis is deserving because of her commitment to disadvantaged communities.
“Peace builders are really looking at who in the community may be disadvantaged, who in the community is most in need of our response,” Massey said. “For so many years, Robyn’s work has been connected to that, to looking at who’s vulnerable in our community and what resources a community needs to bring forth to serve those who are most vulnerable and provide for them what is their due.”
“She’s very committed to the community,” said Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran, associate professor of education at Saint Norbert. “She’s intentional about everything she does. She is an advocate for children and families that are from marginalized communities, and she’s basically dedicated her whole life to advocating for social justice. So she is the perfect recipient for this award.”