As a Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar I whole-heartedly believe that service is a central piece of activism. Raising awareness and protest are important methods that have a large place in the activist world, but the most effective way to produce immediate, if small, results is to do the work that you want to see be done. In this way, I am an activist. I work with youth in two mediums to perpetuate change; the youth suffering from Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and RICA Baltimore and the inspiring creative minds of Destination Imagination.
At RICA I am fighting illiteracy rates by teaching a failed 7th grader of the Baltimore City school system how to read. High school girls who have been taught that they aren’t smart and don’t matter, girls who have been sucked into a culture of self-harm tendencies, are girls that work with me to understand linear equations and algebra. Through the creative problem solving program Destination Imagination, of which I was a successful participant, I perpetuate the positive cycle of support and creativity that I myself experienced. Individuality and teamwork together are developed, and no mind is paid to gender or race, all children are equal. We are to be the change we want to see in the world, and I want to see these programs flourish.
Recently I read a book that opened my eyes to women’s issues on a global scale. Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a compelling expose to a whole spectrum of embarrassments to the human race. From the presence of honor killings to the widespread occurrence of human trafficking, anything you think needs to be stopped is happening. But what can I do? These issues compel me beyond all others, yet I see nowhere to start. What impact do I have on policy change and maternal mortality rates abroad? What validity does a middle class white woman such as myself have in a world teeming with cultural and religious influences that do not belong to her? In this way, I am helpless. And overflowing with frustration.
Three years ago I unwittingly read my first true piece of feminist literature. The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg threw me into an awareness of my body and what it meant to the rest of the world. Society has never approved of women’s bodies, constantly seeking ways to enhance, modify, and twist it into something that it is not. Women and girls today feel that omnipresent pressure. Why do girls in America hate themselves? This is a valid question that needs to be answered, and suffering girls need solutions. As a psychology major, I see my interest in health and activism through a new light: mental health. This “dark side” of society adversely affects women, and an advocate is needed on our side. As a psychiatrist, I would target help to women who need it; those suffering from PTSD, survivors of domestic abuse or other violence and trauma; those suffering from eating disorders; those suffering from anxiety disorders.
We all need to use our strengths and investments in the world around us to change it. The road to activism isn’t treacherous but it is necessary.