Thank you Blaze

When I got into a cab this morning after traveling hundreds of miles north to Boston, one of the last things on my agenda was making a friend. The cab ride was short but was the most meaningful conversation I will have today and it’s only 9 am. My new friend’s name is Blaze and he traveled to America in 1997 from Congo. I am so thankful to have met him because in a time where grades, job interviews and follow up calls had clouded my mind, a simple “Where are you from?” brought me instantly back into focus.

If you need a refresher, United to End Genocide reported that 5 million lives were lost between the civil war breakout in 1996 and 2003 which already makes it the deadliest conflict since World War II. From my conversation with Blaze today, even this astronomic number is 3 million people short. Some of this violence originated when people fled after genocide was stopped in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 but the main sources of conflict have been and continue to be diamonds, minerals and oil. What is most heartbreaking is the list of war crimes include mass killings, corpse mutilation and rape as a weapon of war. Congo is the rape capital of the world which reports over one thousand women becoming victims every day (that is 48 an HOUR). In case this conflict could not get more disturbing, in 2011 a presidential election erupted in chaos and resulted in a mass killing that claimed 18 million lives.

I am not a government official and it would be hard for me to believe that any human that is can 1. grasp the tragedy of this situation and 2. quickly find a solution but what we need to do is keep talking. This this the most dire situation in our world right now but no one knows about it. What we can do as citizens is share the information in the paragraph above or go find the facts yourself and TELL EVERYONE. We cannot let this many lives continue to be derailed by sexual violence or completely lost. Thank you Blaze for bringing me back into focus.


What Happens When You Ask What About Me

How many times a day do we go through life and ask ourselves what about me? We as people have this complexity were we think about our needs before anyone else 24/7. This is not a bad thing at all. Sometimes it is what helps us get the motivation we need to get a college degree or get a job, while other times it causes a riff in mankind. When we are constantly asking ourselves “what about me” we forget about the others around us.

When we come into this world we gain different experiences, we each have our own story to tell. By only asking “what about me” we are loosing the opportunity to enrich ourselves by listening to someone else’s experience. We are a resource for one another. We can help each other achieve the things we desire. We can learn from each other’s experiences. We can develop a community of growth rather than community where mankind is constantly putting each other in a position where we can only think about his or her selves.

Instead of asking ourselves what about me, why don’t we ask ourselves what about the stranger next to me? Why don’t we ask them how their day is going or if we can help them when they look stressed? This answer is simple, we are afraid. We are afraid of being hurt or how the stranger will perceive us or we are afraid that wont is not enough. We go through life only worry about what we can do for ourselves and never wondering how we can help one another.

As human beings, we need to hold each other accountable. We need to start thinking about the person next to us. We need to ask him or her about his or her day and ask for help when we are faced with a problem. It is when we do this we will have a network of people to fallback on when we are faced with tough times and a group of people to look to as a recourse. We can look what we have accomplished individually and inspire one another to do something bigger and better.

Changing the world is something everyone thinks about when they are school or choosing a career path. But what if changing the world was tangible? What if all of us could be agents in changing the world? You don’t have to a doctor or a lawyer or a Nobel Peace Prize winner to change the world. It can be simple. You can start small, start thinking about your neighbor and ask them about their day and find out more about them. From there find out more about your community, what is happening there, is there Farmer’s Market? Learn about an issue that makes you passionate in your community and explain it to your friends. Continue to be kind to strangers; don’t forget how far a little kindness goes. Over and above all, follow your heart. Your heart will guide you and tell you what is ethical and what is unethical.

Challenge yourself to start thinking the person next you and you can be a steward of changing the world.

– Sam

My Truth

One of our biggest sources of inspiration and aspiration at James Madison is the eternal Gandhi. This venerable man said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. This is very true of my university experience. My first two years here felt like I was wandering around, flailing, grasping at false friendships, trying to make meaning for myself in a place where I felt so lost. One of the most amazing moments of clarity came to me while driving back to Harrisonburg from my first Alternative Break trip to Bristol, FL. Surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds, of different talents and interests, all with a common goal: to leave a positive impact on an environment that needed help. I felt more alive on that trip that I had in a while. Dan Cumberland said “Finding your voice is mostly having the courage to speak and letting it be enough.” On this break trip (and subsequent ones), I learned that silence is not productive. That activism is more important than I ever knew. I somehow found myself comforted in the fact that I could pour myself into something like service and find clarity. I can be myself and be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will share my values or thoughts or emotions, that not everyone will agree with what I care about, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing so. My whole life before this was punctuated with thoughts of “oh I shouldn’t say that it sounds stupid” or “I won’t say anything at all”. Not anymore. I found my truth. And it is loud. I think it is because I was surrounded with such love and support, in ways that nurtured me and challenged me. I was starting to find my happiness. To find my truth, and not trying to fit into someone else’s version of truth.

Around this same time at the end of my second year of school, I found my way to yoga. Yoga is where I learned to be humble, yet bold. I learned to be safe, yet fearless. I learned to take care of myself and love myself in ways I didn’t know I could. I found this amazing capacity for love and empathy in my heart. I found that I can find a beautiful balance between self love and service. Service, outreach, and activism can be crucial cornerstones in my life and identity, but it is not everything. I live unapologetically and authentically as my true self. My true self also just happens to care a whole lot about other people.

Monica Bourgeau wrote an inspiring article for HuffPost: 7 ways you can change the world. She talks about how small changes can lead to big changes, how by doing something as simple as saying hello to someone can make a change, how happiness and love are inherent characteristics of activists. I believe in balance. I believe that there is an intense and wonderful joy that comes from serving others. I also believe that your true happiness comes from within. If you can reach inside, so some digging, find your truth, you can share it with the world. I think I have so much to share with the world, and I intend on using what I have learned and what I possess to create positive and lasting change in this world. Gandhi spoke to my truth in that I found myself in service and advocacy, but I will never lose myself.


p.s. Happy Earth Day! Do something kind for the planet. Do something kind for someone else. Be kind. Namaste!

“The Danger of Silence”

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking up. Whether it is for your own interests or the interests of others, it can be very daunting to assert yourself. We fear that we will not be accepted, that no one will listen, or that we will lose the respect of others for speaking about something that we care for. When we are silent, we have no commitments. When we use our voice, we are making a commitment to the words we speak. When we are silent, it is easy to assimilate into a crowd. Using our voice makes us known and makes us stand out. Silence tolerates destruction, anger, and injustice. The TED talk by Clint Smith entitled “The Dangers of Silence” offers excellent illustrations of why we need to stop being silent – “all around us we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide, and war”.

Discrimination. Violence. Genocide. War.

            This is what happens when we remain silent. We allow those who have the stronger voices, and not the right voices, be the loudest. We have the ability to be heard and we have to believe that there are people that will listen! If we do not speak out, who will? This class has taught me to no longer be intimidated by using my own voice. I may just be a college student, but that should not stop me from speaking out about issues that are important to me. I have a duty to erase indifference with my voice. I have a responsibility to speak out about injustice with my voice. I would want someone to use their voice for me if I needed it, so I must use my voice to help those I can. We must remember that our voice, the voice for good, is stronger.

            Clint Smith has four core principles that he encourages his students to abide by:

               Read Critically. Write Consciously. Speak Clearly. Tell your Truth.

            This is why we have a voice – If we read about injustice, we must then write about it, blog, tweet, or post. We have to communicate to others about why this injustice is wrong and keep talking until they listen. We cannot be silent. We must be loud.



I found my voice, where is yours?


Every college semester I have changed sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. Every sixteen weeks something happens that makes me want to change or solidify staying the same. One thing that keeps progressing is finding my voice. I identified with Dan Cumberland’s article, “The secret to finding your voice.” In high school I was more soft spoken, a push over, and too nice. Now I’m not very soft-spoken, but still nice and I’m starting to not take any more bull shit from people and their negative or non-helpful opinions as well as adding more ideas and views to the conversation, to make everything fair across the board. Cumberland says when one finds her voice she finds more freedom to speak, express, and ability to let herself be heard. I totally agree with him and that’s the reason I’ve gotten better with communicating each semester.

Cumberland also mentions that people don’t speak up because they don’t feel free to speak. I once felt this way, but after being quiet and not standing up for myself or others that I can’t stand up for themselves, I felt defeated and upset. If I would have said something then there is a possibility the situation would have played out better. Now I try to say what I’m feeling or believe early on. Sure, sometimes it makes situations a bit harder, but if I don’t say anything it’s not doing anyone any good. After class discussions about telling peers about our alternative spring break trip, I think we need to pay attention to Cumberland’s words and not be afraid of the blank, sometimes awkward stares we get when explaining our class. We need to stick with what we say and move past the blank looks to explain our goals and have that be enough and feel good about getting the word out even if it’s only a quick few sentences. More people doing or wanting to do advocacy work need to listen to Cumberland’s words his conclusion is awesome and can give people something to sit and think on…

“The real work is wondering why you don’t like what you already have to say. The real work is letting your voice speak and to let it be good enough. The real work is letting your voice matter more than meeting the needs and expectations of everyone else (whether they are real or perceived).”

For those of you who haven’t found your voice… it matters!!! Be heard, and let it rip! Find the quick seconds of courage to let what you have to say be enough. Every word is a contribution, don’t miss out!



We, not Me

“Wherever we come from, when we see the state of the world today, we can all feel the growing frustration and desire to make a difference”Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.57.02 PMOver the course of the semester I have gained a strange appreciation for people. More specifically, people who help people and people who need help. After reflecting on an article by Alicia Keys entitled Believe you Can Change the World I have a lot of thoughts about people and how people can change people. As she stated in the quote above, we all SEE a state of growing frustration about the inequalities, diminished opportunities, and growing violence in the world. Well, sure seeing is believing but doing is what makes the difference.

In the article, Keys made an important distinction: it’s not about me. It’s about WE. Let that statement mull over for a moment, it took me a good 10 minutes to process that. While it is importScreen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.57.40 PMant that we all individually make efforts to put forth a change in injustice, we can’t do it as individuals. Individuals with different missions, plans, and ideas are just going to result in a minor chip away at the global issues society struggles with. Now, put those individuals together, and you set off an earthquake that shakes those problems out of place and help resolve some of the most pertinent atrocities that shape societies across the world. Keys created the song We Are Here in order to show how it is the individual responsibility of the “me” in order to follow through with the purpose of “we”. If you know a way to make a substantial difference like erasing Genocide and other indifferences in our world by yourself without the help or elicitation of others, I would like to know how because based on what I know it takes an army to move a mountain. Keys lists a page of reasons why we are here and some of them resonated with me as I believe they are incredibly powerful or I have introspectively recognized my own lack of influence in these areas.

We are here to to do our part, to ensure each child has equal opportunity for education, make sure every voice is heard, to allow for mutual respect and cooperation among all people and nations, to end poverty and oppression, choose unity love, forgiveness, and passion, and to use collective power to change the status quo in a peaceful manner.

We are here for a multitude of reasons that most of us live everyday without recognizing these civil responsibilities to those people surrounding us. We are here expresses every aspect of how people help people. You can’t do it by yourself, but you can do it with the help of those people that impact your life. Me can become We. Alicia Keys has recognized the importance of the traditional MLK and Ghandi teachings, nonviolent resistance and peaceful change. Thats how you make a difference in this large world, by creating a coalition of those who also want to make a change in society, bring attention to issues, and collectively advocating for those who lack voices to fight their own battle. As I sat here writing this, I smiled realizing that this course has provided exactly that. While we may be a small group, we all share a common passion for helping others and we made a difference in only a week. I hope that each of us can continue to practice advocacy regardless of the profession, city, or path we choose and that we don’t forget that while it starts with me, it takes we.10171225_828878990529649_6489097933829930596_n


Continuing as an Advocate

A question I often ask myself is how I can continue the work I began in Arizona with my class. Genocide and refugee resettlement is an issue that is easily left in the dark behind issues happening in our backyards. The readings our professor assigned us this week reminded me not to feel overwhelmed.

Monica Bourgeau, in an article posted on The Huffington Post, determined seven ways that you, meaning people just like you and me, can change the world. The two that I needed to hear most were:

Starting small

It is impossible to take on the world; instead, it is important to take small steps to make a change. Each small step will build on the previous step, so the impact you are making is continually growing.

Highlight an issue

Working on one specific issue can create a bigger impact than trying to do it all. Instead, focus on an issue you feel passionate about, gain as much knowledge about that issue as possible, and then advocate for that issue.

For me it is easy to get caught up in my own life, with the semester coming to an end and graduation fast approaching I feel stress that adding anything to my schedule will be too much. However, reading these two recommendations reminded me not to feel overwhelmed. My goal is not to change the world, but to advocate for the change that needs to happen. This is a small step that I can take in helping the world change. By selecting one issue, genocide and refuge resettlement, I can narrow my focus in what I need to be advocating for. Reading these articles showed me that continuing my advocacy does not need to encompass my whole life, rather I need to focus on setting aside a couple hours a week to continue to blog and research genocide and refugee resettlement issues. In doing so, I will be able to continue the advocacy that I have begun in this course.


Title: 7 Ways You Can Change the World
Author: Monica Bourgeau