From the Ashes

From the Ashes

On 9/11 Andrew Rice lost a brother and found a greater purpose.

By Ruani S. Freeman


 
He has spoken at gatherings in the United States and South Africa and has been interviewed on the BBC, CBC, MSNBC, and Fox News. He has been covered by theSunday Times in Scotland, the London Times, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. He was awarded the 2004 Angie Debo Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from the ACLU for his courageous work on unpopular issues under the most trying of circumstances.

image
Andrew Rice ‰96 with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rice‰s sister Amy during a visit to Capetown, South Africa. Rice advocates the reconciliation model offered by post-apartheid South Africa.
Rice now is the head of the Progressive Alliance Foundation, a non-partisan group that advocates on behalf of initiatives ranging from civil rights to ethical foreign policy. He's a new dad who traveled the hard road to political involvement, and he argues eloquently in favor of reconciliation. And to pursue a life in public service, Rice left the political haven he found in New York—a blue city in a blue state—for Oklahoma, where he would be in the minority.

Rice made a conscious decision to do important work where he thinks it is truly needed, rather than, as he puts it, "being a progressive activist where we are the majority in places like New York City or on the West Coast.—

His decision to return to his hometown was made easier when his wife, pathologist Apple Newman Rice, got a job in Oklahoma City. But she was not the sole reason. Among his muses Rice counts Cornel West, whose work he studied while at Colby and under whom he studied at Harvard Divinity School.

"He talked about the gramscian idea of the organic intellectual, that if you go from a rural area to a place of culture and gain knowledge and experience there, it is your organic responsibility to return to your community to effect change. This was my chance.—

The journey has catapulted Rice into the national arena of advocacy and electoral politics. Throughout, he has held close the image of his brother and the event that brought about his loss.

"I had, ironically, studied fundamentalism in graduate school, and it took on a new meaning once 9/11 happened and David was killed. I wanted to go back to what I had learned about the role of religion in social justice movements.—

Rice's faith (raised a Catholic, he recently joined the United Church of Christ), heavily infused with a strong desire to bridge the gulf between secular need for a just society and organized religion, has guided him throughout his adult life.

It is a characteristic noted by his mentor at Colby, Professor of Religious Studies Debra Campbell. "What makes Andrew different is the particular way in which he combines the personal and the political in a spirituality with deep intellectual roots. There is nothing insubstantial about his faith.—

In 1996, after having made the short list for a Watson Fellowship, Rice deferred enrollment to Harvard, raised funds independently, and went to Sri Lanka to carry out the work outlined in his Watson proposal, drawing on contacts he made while on the ISLE (Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education) program at Colby. First Rice worked with Sarvodaya, the largest Buddhist grassroots organization in Asia, and then he went to Thailand, where he joined forces with that country's largest private AIDS hospice, housed in a former Buddhist monastery.

A year later a grant allowed him and his sister to travel to Bangalore, India, to make the documentary film From Ashes, which focused on an ex-convict who ran a hospice for HIV-positive people who had been refused treatment. The film was shown at film festivals in Bombay, Los Angeles, and Canada and was used in the United States and in India as educational programming for physicians. "It became a story about rebirth out of the ashes, literally, after they had to go against tradition and cremate a baby who had AIDS,— Rice said.

That preoccupation with renewal, and a stubborn determination to be unbridled by obstacles, came to the fore again for Rice after 9/11. "After graduate school, I had two interests: work on religion and activism and documentary filmmaking.— For a time, the films won out, and Rice moved to New York to edit and produce segments for the BBC and PBS (his credits include The Merrow Report and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer).

Rice's brand of progressive politics embraces his opponents. One year after 9/11, he and several other 9/11 family members got a call from the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, and they agreed to meet in New York City with Madame al-Wafi, mother of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker.—

Rice and others sat in a room waiting for her, nervous both about the meeting and the prospect of the U.S. government finding out. Finally she entered the room with the mother of another man who had died in the towers on 9/11. They were both sobbing, their arms around each other.

The sight overwhelmed Rice, he said, and his heart opened up. "Madame al-Wafi reminded me a lot of my own mother, who had cried so much after David died,— Rice said. He cried along with everyone else in the room.

Following that meeting, and grappling with the issue of reconciliation, Rice traveled to South Africa to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His brother David loved South Africa and lived there as a Fulbright Scholar studying the redistribution of land. "It was a very personal journey for me and my sister, who accompanied me to [the former prison on] Robben Island, where we were involved with representatives from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,— Rice said. "The things they were talking about held immense meaning for my own path to healing.—