Remembering Peace Action Leader Steven Brion-Meisels

Remembering Peace Action Leader Steven Brion-Meisels

Steven Brion-Meisels, our board chair, and a state and national leader of Peace Action for over 30 years, died of cancer on March 9, 2014 at the age of 64.

Steven Brion-Meisels at Peace Action meeting, 1990's

Steven Brion-Meisels at Peace Action meeting, 1990’s

He touched so many of our lives with his compassionate presence, uplifting energy, infectious “passion for the possible”, beautiful words of inspiration, and tireless efforts for a more just, humane, peaceful, and sustainable world.  We at Massachusetts Peace Action are grateful to have known him as an influential colleague, wise mentor, insightful teacher, motivating role model, and caring friend.

Born on May 6, 1949 in Amityville, Long Island, Steven spent a wonderful childhood and adolescence surrounded by a loving family in nearby Lindenhurst. His parents, John and Freide Brion, were active community members who encouraged his intellectual curiosity, while nurturing his love of art, music, long-distance running, and community involvement. He grew up with three sisters, Kathleen, Lois, and Marguerite, each of whom shared his passion for music, his commitment to family, and his love of the written word.

As an adolescent and young adult, Steven became increasingly committed to social justice causes – inspired by transformative experiences during the Civil Rights and antiwar movements. This commitment shaped both his personal and professional life. In 1975, he moved to Cambridge, to be with his life-long partner, Linda Meisels. They married on May 1, 1976, combined their heritages, and had two daughters, Gretchen and Sophia, both of whom inherited his commitment to social justice, his love of education, and his belief in the power of young people. Steven and Linda spent their time together singing, traveling, reading, writing, organizing and teaching—most often in the United States, Colombia, and Palestine.  Over time, their family grew to include Gretchen’s partner, Eliza, and two grandchildren, Izzy and Ian.  During his 39 years in Cambridge, Steven ran the Boston Marathon 29 times, always fundraising for Peace Action or for another community cause, and always cheered on by family and friends.

Steven joined the Massachusetts Freeze Campaign in the 1980’s and played an important role in the merger of the national SANE and Freeze organizations, which formed SANE/Freeze in 1987 and later changed their name to Peace Action.   Steven served as Massachusetts Peace Action’s representative to the national Peace Action board for 30 years, serving as its national board co-chair several times,  participating in every committee of the national board, and stepping down in 2013 when he was replaced by Carol Coakley.  Steven served as chair of the board of Massachusetts Peace Action and of its executive committee since 2011, emphasizing the importance of developing the organization, recruiting members, strengthening the board, raising money and recruiting youth members and leaders. Steven was the initiator and first convener of our Palestine/Israel Task Force.

Steven’s work life manifested his bottomless reserve of energy and a deep commitment to social justice, often combining several paid positions with his volunteer work.  As a young man, Steven helped develop the first alternative school program in Salt Lake City, where he also served as a teacher and administrator. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Utah and moving to Cambridge, Steven spent ten years teaching and working at the ManvilleSchool at the Judge Baker Children’s Center. He spent the next thirteen years working for the Cambridge Public Schools, where he ran dropout prevention, youth development, and peacemaking programs.  Beginning in 2000, Steven worked for Peace Games (now Peace First) in a number of capacities, all of which enabled him to combine his commitment to peace and justice with his commitment to empowering young people.  In recent years, Steven taught courses at Springfield College, Cambridge College, and Los AndesUniversity in educational leadership and peacemaking.  He was one of the co-founders of the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts (SAM).  Steven also treasured his 30 years of teaching and mentoring young people through Congregation Kahal B’riara.

One of his most enduring contributions was as a founding member of the Peaceable Schools Institute, which ran at Lesley University for 18 years and through which a diverse group of educators and activists came together to discuss strategies for nourishing schools, communities, and one another that would be equitable, grounded in justice, and peace-building.

We remember Steven most of all for his eternally positive attitude, his large and generous smile, his signature MLK buttons, and his deep commitment to grassroots social change. He is survived by his wife, Linda, his sisters, Kathleen, Lois, and Marguerite, his daughters, Gretchen, Sophia, and Eliza, his grandchildren Izzy and Ian, and a loving community of family, friends, students and mentees, all of whom will miss him dearly.

Michael J. Keller, chair of the national Peace Action Education Fund board, wrote, “It is no exaggeration to say that Steven Brion-Meisels was one of the giants in the history of Peace Action and, indeed, represented in many ways the heart of our organization.  In the countless years that he served on the Peace Action Board, spanning back to the days of SANE, Steven was the ‘peacemaker for the peacemakers.  And, boy, was it required from time to time.  Steven demonstrated a gentle brand of leadership as co-chair and a genuine caring for those of us who had the benefit of working with him.  His commitment to peace went beyond stands on issues.  He exhibited it in his interaction with people.  I do not recall him uttering an unkind word about anyone.  Many of us have personally designed gifts of artwork that he prepared in recognition for service to Peace Action.  In his final months as he struggled with cancer, he kept up the spirits of his friends and family through incredibly insightful “medical updates”.  It is hard to imagine the peace movement without Steven and who can possibly fill the place he leaves.” 

A memorial service will be held at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square (1446 Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge) on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 1pm.  A reception will follow.   In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made in Steven’s name either to the work of Peace Action or to a memorial bench, in Steve’s honor, along the Charles River bike path; the Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund will handle donations to both purposes.  Donations for Peace Action’s work will be divided between the Steven Brion-Meisels Peace Fellowship, a new program to develop the next generation of Massachusetts peace leaders, and support for the national Peace Action organization.  Further information on how to donate to either purpose may be found at www.masspeaceaction.org/stevenbrion-meiselsfund.

Our former staffer and board member Angela Kelly, who was also a student of Steven’s, will join Boston’s Run to Remember Half-Marathon in Steven’s memory on Memorial Day weekend, to raise funds for the Steven Brion-Meisels Peace Fellowship.

Read the Boston Globe‘s obituary and Stories for Steven, a compilation of stories, memories, and lessons learned with over 200 contributions from his friends and admirers.