Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea: Willits Book Trust supports Stories to Heal Liberia


In late October 2018, members of the Willits Book Trust of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Walton Burwell of Germantown Monthly Meeting and Lisa Stewart Garrison of Greenwich Monthly Meeting, visited with Dr. Carl Patrick Burrowes to prepare 250 copies of his book Between the Forest and the Salty Sea: A History of the Liberian People Before 1800 to be shipped to Monrovia. The committee enjoyed a delicious Liberian meal while enjoying their work. The boxes of books, a gift from the Willits Book Trust to people in Liberia, have been shipped abroad to coincide with the author’s return to his native land. Dr. Burrowes is visiting parts of Liberia within and beyond Monrovia to present copies of his book to thought leaders, educators, decision makers, and aspiring students.

One of the oldest grant-making groups of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the Willits Book Trust Committee presents gifts of books that embody and reflect Quaker values as a means of honoring organizations and individuals that serve African Americans (in communities in the US, south of the Mason Dixon Line) and people in Liberia. Through presentations of written materials and the development of partnerships with groups and individuals, Willits works to bring to light untold stories, advancing the work of those whose visions are aligned with our own.

Dr. Burrowes’ book achieves Willits’ mission by depicting stories of the country’s early culture and natural resources in ways that extend beyond the boundaries of ethnicity and language, to reveal the unifying ties that bind all Liberians. The book reflects three decades of Dr. Burrowes’ research and uses documents first published in Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, and French, drawing on oral traditions, archeology, linguistics, studies of cultural patterns embedded in masks and other forms of material culture, regional histories and biological anthropology. What results is a story of early Liberia told in ways that evoke attitudes of respect for the contributions of the many groups and regions that make up the country.

Decades of internal conflicts followed by the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn country have posed challenges for the Willits Book Trust as the Committee worked faithfully to develop sustainable partnerships with schools and universities in Liberia. The newly developing partnership with Dr. Burrowes represents what PYM’s Director of Grantmaking Carol Walz has aptly referred to as a kind of answered prayer in that it gives Willits an opportunity to support the study of peacemaking and conflict resolution for future leaders over time. In addition to the copies of his own book, Willits presented Dr. Burrowes with six copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; An American Slave, published by the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, to place on reserve in the Cuttington University Library for a course he’ll be teaching on Servant Leadership.

Willits was drawn by Dr. Burrowes sense of spiritual calling and his desire to “give back” to the country of his origins. Following a career in US institutions of higher education as media scholar, historian and administrator, Dr. Burrowes has been appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs at Cuttington University in Monrovia. ““We are honored and humbled to be able to support Dr. Burrowes and the work he will do in Liberia,” said Walton Burwell. “This effort reunites the Willits Book Trust’s work, begun by the late Dick Smith (GMM), but interrupted during the country’s many years of conflict” added Charles Woodson (GMM), Clerk of the Willits Book Trust. “As a member of our committee and the Director of Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia, Dick first initiated our partnership with Cuttington University, an Episcopal School and the oldest institution of higher learning in Liberia. We are delighted to be able to continue this work through our support for Dr. Burrowes and Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea.”