Matt Driscoll

Did you see this bus around town? Its driver is on a mission — and it’s a good one

Some people go on vacation when they get their tax return. Others buy a big new TV or pay off credit card debt.

Kwabi Amoah-Forson bought a peace bus.

More accurately, Amoah-Forson bought the Peace Bus, as it’s now officially known, a 1988 Mitsubishi van he paid $3,200 in cash for earlier this year. He then immediately had Maaco paint it baby blue and took it to WrapJax to get its given name emblazoned on the sides.

Because that’s what you do when you want a Peace Bus, obviously.

All told, Amoah-Forson is in for a little over $4,000 at this point. He says it’s been worth it.

Thing is, Amoah-Forson — a gregarious presence who grew up in University Place and describes himself as an aspiring activist — has plans. He wants the Peace Bus to be a vehicle of change and not just a novelty, he says, by helping to facilitate conversations with average people about what peace actually means and how we can realize it in our lives and in our communities.

The goal isn’t altogether new for Amoah-Forson, who has spent the last four years as a case manager for Comprehensive Life Resources. For several months, he spent every Saturday at Wright Park in Tacoma, with a tent and a megaphone, reading speeches from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and talking to people. More recently, he visited San Francisco and Europe engaging in this work.

When it comes to the Peace Bus, Amoah-Forson even has a box of old cassette tapes kicking around in back — everything from James Taylor and John Denver to Bob Marley and Lucky Dube to play on the all-original sound system —providing a fitting, if not slightly stereotypical, soundtrack.

Oh, did I mention he has an acoustic guitar stowed in back, which he’ll use to perform “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” if you give him a chance?

Sounds a little woo-woo, right?

But Amoah-Forson is serious.

He promised.

Just stick with me for a minute.

On Aug. 9, Amoah-Forson and a team of six will begin a two-week trip down the West Coast, taking the Peace Bus on tour. They’ll be headed all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, and then back, handing out socks and warm blankets to those in need along the way.

Amoah-Forson also will record conversations with folks he meets for a series of podcasts. This is the real meat of his plan, which he describes as a politically neutral attempt to get people talking — and more importantly get people listening — about the idea of peace. Once The Peace Bus arrives at the southern border, Amoah-Forson hopes to engage people in conversations about the fractious national immigration debate.

While Amoah-Forson’s peace bus might be reminiscent of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, he’s sees this more as a modern-day Mr. Rogers effort, he says.

“There needs to be a space for calm, understanding, self-reflection and love,” he explains of his vision “There needs to be an outlet for peace, and people need to see it. … I feel like often people think (peace) isn’t tangible, but I think it is.”

This, Amoah-Forson says, is his chosen calling.

“You know, there’s still goodness happening, and it’s everywhere,” he says. “This is it. This is it for me. … Everything I’ve got, goes toward the Peace Bus.”

OK, about that. I know what you’re thinking, because I was probably thinking the same thing.

Peace — in the broadest sense — is such an amorphous term, I told Amoah-Forson skeptically when we met earlier this week after he pulled the Peace Bus into The News Tribune parking lot. It can be hard to know what it means, let alone achieve it.

Frankly, I said, I have trouble conceptualizing peace in even a remotely genuine way. Infected by my own cynicism, the word conjures Haight Ashbury caricatures more than it does a potential reality.

How is a brightly painted van, and a man with a microphone, really going to help?

“I don’t think it can hurt,” Amoah-Forson replied without missing a beat.

Clearly, he had heard the question before.

Soon, Amoah-Forson was citing Abie Nathan, the Israeli humanitarian activist famous for flying his peace flights and for launching the Voice of Peace off-shore radio station. Then, he name-checked Brian Haw, who spent nearly a decade camping outside parliament in London, campaigning for peace and protesting war.

These figures are Amoah-Forson’s heroes and inspirations.

If they can take a stand for peace, so can he, he says.

So should he.

“Peace is a broad topic, but if you talk to each and every person, most people will come to it when you ask them what they want out of life. Peace of mind, peace in general, is something that comes up,” Amoah-Forson assures. “So I’m interested in learning what’s behind that, and what that means to them. You know, if it’s something that we all want, why can’t we have a conversation about it more, to try to pin down what it is, so we can try to make that happen?”

Perhaps it’s predictable that in the year 2019, a man talking about peace — and asking others to do the same — can easily be passed off as silly or naive. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that my own initial reaction had much more to do with amused fascination than belief. I don’t know.

But perhaps, given some time to think about it, all of this is exactly why we need people like Amoah-Forson more than ever right now.

“I feel like if we can humanize each other, then we’ll be better off,” Amoah-Forson says.

Peace Bus and all, he probably has a point.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
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