In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Haute Verte Couture has chosen to honor the life and work of a civil rights activist who fought to protect the natural and cultural values and rights in Kenya. Professor Wangari Muta Maathai (1940-2011) was a champion of civil, environmental and women’s rights who dedicated her life to raise awareness on these causes globally. Some of her more famous accomplishments include leading the Green Belt Movement, serving in Kenya’s Parliament, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. However, it is Prof. Maathai’s fortitude that enabled her to lead revolutionary women-driven communities to reclaim their traditions and that inspired a global movement of grass-roots environmentalists.
Prof. Maathai fundamentally understood colonization’s negative effect on the people and land of Kenya. In Lisa Merton and Alan Dater’s film, Taking Root The Vision of Wangari Maathai, Prof. Maathai describes that,
“Culture is coded wisdom…Wisdom that has been accumulated for thousands of years and generations. Some of that wisdom is coded in our ceremonies, it is coded in our values, it is coded in our songs, in our dances, in our plays.”
She used this logic to empower small groups of women to plant trees in lands where there was drought and lack of connection to nature. Prof. Maathai mobilized these women by empowering them with a sense of self-worth and confidence that gave them a chance to see how their dreams could make a difference in their communities and environment.
Her work was not limited to environmental and feminist rights—two huge issues alone—but she was also a champion of civil rights, policy and the quest for democratic politics in Kenya. In Taking Root, Prof. Maathai describes her person ideology. She states,
“Life is a struggle. You walk along and you hope that things will be absolutely wonderful and sometimes they aren’t. So picking myself by my strings is my way of making sure that no matter how desperate a situation seems hat I don’t completely give up.”
She prevailed in these efforts. At the time of her death, due to a long struggle with cancer, Prof. Maathai had built a legacy can only be described as positivity embodied. She led by example and believed passionately that each of our choices and efforts have the power to make a difference.
While her time on earth was short, she saw and brought to light the important need for remembering the interconnectedness of nature and culture. Prof. Maathai authored multiple books, and gave countless lectures and trainings. But her legacy can be best seen in the hopeful smiles of the women she inspired and the changing landscape of Kenya’s new-again forests.
We at Haute Verte Couture wish Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Happy Birthday and hope that you share with us a leader of civil rights and peace who inspires you.