David LaMotte wraps up service to Nobel Peace Prize committee

Elizabeth I. Acree
Special to The Black Mountain News

Local resident and internationally acclaimed musician David LaMotte in November completed his sixth and final year on the American Friends Service Committee's Nobel Peace Prize nominating committee. As he describes it, the experience has been rich and deeply rewarding.

Philanthropy and the desire to work for peace have been constant threads throughout LaMotte's career, one in which he has given more than 3,000 concerts and written 12 CDs and three books.

The desire to help others was ingrained in LaMotte early on. The grandson and son of Presbyterian ministers and the brother of another, he calls himself a “Quakerterian," a mashup reflecting his respect for his Presbyterian heritage and his adherence to Quaker theological beliefs.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization supported by Quakers and non-Quakers alike who support Quaker thought and practice. The organization is eligible to submit nominations to the Nobel Peace Prize because it received one itself in 1947. That prize was awarded to the American group and to the British Council of Friends on behalf of Quakers worldwide for their work for peace during and after World War II. The prize was the first Nobel Peace Prize awarded to an entire faith.

Nominating privileges for the prize are given to a select group of people such as former Nobel Laureates, heads of universities and senior elected officials. LaMotte's being asked to be a nominator (twice for three-year terms) was an honor and a great responsibility, he said, that evolved in a wonderful way.

During high school in the mid 1980s, LaMotte was impressed with an older woman, a family friend and Quaker who, despite her partial paralysis, worked tirelessly for social justice. Her strength and positivism made a lasting impression on LaMotte, who had already seen his mother work ardently as a peace activist in Sarasota, Fla. during the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

In college at James Madison University from 1986-1990, he participated in community conflict resolution and worked in peace efforts. He also began performing as a singer/guitarist, performing original works and other people's songs. LaMotte soon realized that his songs affected people, that they began to respond to and be moved by them. He felt pulled by two distinct callings - community conflict resolution that required him to remain in the community and music, which required him to tour.

In summer 1990, he worked on the summer staff at Montreat Conference Center to think things through. When the job was up, he gave himself two years to decide between the two callings. Four months later, his music was doing so well that he quit doing odd jobs to go into music full-time.

His career took off, but through it all was his love for the message of peace. He gave benefit performances and raise donations to help at-risk youth and causes he cared about.

In 2004 he married his wife Deanna. They honeymooned in Guatemala where they founded PEG (Proyecto para las Escuelas Guatemaltecas), a Guatemalan school project and nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy, critical thought and artistic expression in that Latin American country. "Peg" is also the word for the part of a guitar that tunes a string, used euphemistically in the name of the organization to indicate that small changes can make big differences.

Through a serendipitous development, in 2008 a friend told him about the Rotary World Peace Fellowship. LaMotte's music had been prospering for about 18 years, but he felt the need to deepen his peace work. He applied for the competitive fellowship and was accepted.

The fellowship enabled him to attend the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia in 2010, where he received a master's degree in international relations, peace and conflict resolution, having done his field work in India.

In 2011, he and Deanna moved to Chapel Hill, where he worked for the North Carolina Council of Churches on Peace and Justice, a position he still holds as a consultant. When they later moved to Black Mountain and he became a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) locally, a fellow member mentioned to him that he was completing his final year on the AFSC Nobel Peace Prize nominating committee. Would David be interested in being nominated in his place, the man asked? David said he would be honored. After a rigorous vetting process, he was accepted by the committee, beginning in 2010 what became a six-year commitment.

The work on the committee has been extremely rewarding for LaMotte, he said. It has nourished and inspired him, he said, to see “the enormous good (that) people are doing in the world.” There is great power in being nominated, he said. “The credibility of the nomination shines light on the massive significance" on the work the nominees have done, he said.

Now, having served on the committee and having released a new CD ("The Other Way Around"), LaMotte is into a whole new chapter in his life.

He's in two trios - The Three Davids, with David Holt and David Wilcox, and Abraham Jam, composed of musicians from the Abrahamic faiths (Jews, Muslims and Christians). The latter group performed at the World Parliament of Religions in Salt Lake City last year.

LaMotte has also published two children’s books, one that teaches nonviolence and one about creative conflict transformation. He has also written a third book, "World Changing 101," which focuses on how peace begins with what he said are “small, individual nondramatic actions” on the part of ordinary people.

With his father, John LaMotte, he is working on a church study guide for "World Changing 101." He plans to publish a secular version of the book, as well as a faith-based one for people of different faiths.

These days, this is what he asks of himself: “Where do my gifts intersect with the needs of the world around me and the things that I care about?” In this season of new beginnings, he posed a question each of us might ask ourselves: “What is mine to do?”