I’m going to tell you a story. I’ve told it before. And it’s not life changing to anyone else but me. It’s how I became the me that I call myself today. The one I refer to that will do anything for something she believes in. The one that timidly shares her problems of anxiety with a group of friends she first met over the internet. The one that’s always churning in the background, regardless of what me is showing at the front. It’s the me that makes my eyes tear up to think about.
Fall of 2011 I moved into a dorm on the beautiful campus of Virginia Tech. I had gotten credit already for most required core classes, but I still needed something for Area 7: Critical Issues in Global Context. I signed up for a class called World Regions. Now, history and social studies have never been my strong point. How am I supposed to remember the leader of every major country in the world if I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night, and I forget the word “strainer” when trying to tell my mom what I need from the cupboard?
True story, I actually forgot that word tonight just a couple hours before I wrote this.
But I signed up for the course because I heard it was easy, had 3,000 students in it, and the professor was a baffling mix of humor and offensiveness that drove around in plaid Scion xB. This is the girl I was. Normal. I had my own problems and quirks like anyone else. I was introverted, quiet, a little nerdy, and took art classes outside of school. Even on the weekends. But I had a normal middle and high school experience.
Life changed me towards the beginning of the end of my first semester in college. It was a movie. (If that’s not of sign of the millennial age, I don’t know what is). Professor Boyer of that very World Regions class convinced me (and probably at least 1,000 more of us) with extra points to come see a screening of a movie. He did this thing where he showed screenings of movies about other cultures and countries for extra points in the class if we attended, probably in an efforts to try and “globalize us” or something. Funny I’d be looking back at that four years later, teary-eyed and eternally grateful that he ruined my life in the best way possible. And to think I almost didn’t go.
The film shown that night was called “Tony,” and it was shown by a group of weird looking things… err I mean, people… called “roadies” that drove all the way from California (one from Uganda) for a nonprofit called Invisible Children. Invisible Children is a millennial generation nonprofit that exists to stop a rebel group in central Africa called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their leader, Joseph Kony, from committing terrible atrocities and human rights abuses, which they have been doing now for over 20 years.
Please watch. If you’ve seen it before, watch. If you’ve never even heard of Invisible Children or Joseph Kony before, please. Watch. I can’t promise it won’t ruin you. And I can’t promise you’ll care. But I did and I did with such a fury and a passion that I can’t not use every opportunity I have to try and convince others to do the same.
After the movie, there was a presentation about what Invisible Children was and a discussion with a young Ugandan who had been directly affected by the conflict. I can’t say I remember the words they said. I can’t remember the ones that struck my heart with such force, I was shaken and lost of strength. But I remember standing back up. It’s funny, actually. That I just kept standing up. Tears in my eyes, gripping the seat in front of me for balance, I just kept standing up in the middle of the room, while the roadies were still presenting. Good thing I was in the back, because I’m sure people were staring at me. The film, the talk, the staggering realization that this was going on in today’s world, that people weren’t stopping them, that people my age and younger were facing the worst human rights abuses imaginable was just more than my mind could bear. It’s like my body knew that I needed to do something that instance to help the cause, but my mind, in its utter astonishment, just hadn’t caught up yet.
Once the presentation ended, and I figured out how to move my legs again, I started to act. I immediately joined the Frontline, a campaign to raise $2 million in four months for Invisible Children’s Protection Plan. I organized a team in my dorm to raise even though there were only a couple of weeks of the tour left. I was a leader for the first time in my life, it was terrifying and humbling and exhausting. But I did because I wanted to, I needed to. Me, the definition of “that quiet art kid”, wanted to be a leader so that I could share a story that was bigger and more important than myself. That sort of feeling only comes around a few times in a lifetime.
This was only the beginning. It was a seed and a spark. A moment. I happened to be there and it changed me forever. But this was only the beginning.
Stay tuned for The Moment That Made Me: Part 2 to see how this spark brought me to life. In the meantime, I’ll be back there reliving all my best and hardest and most inspiring memories since then and trying to pretend I’m not crying at something ridiculous.
Keep taking action and stay true to yourself.