GUEST POST: Sofie Wolthers, the International Panel on Social Progress: Let Injustice Drive Your Passion

Let Injustice Drive Your Passion

Whether you’re passionate about racial issues, gender equality, poverty, or working conditions, the fight for social justice always comes with moments of discouragement. Something as simple as watching the news after an already exhausting work day can make you feel empty, draining the motivation out of you  I have experienced this discouragement, and continue to regularly. This feeling remains part of the battle we fight as social activists. Not only are we fighting a battle for equality and justice within the world, but we are working to find inspiration around us and within ourselves that gives us the desire to pursue change.

Who am I? I am a young adult living in New York City. I was born in Brazil and am the youngest of four. When I was three, my parents moved my family to the United States with hopes to raise their children in a safer environment than our community in Brazil offered us. One afternoon, burglars broke into our home and robbed us of our valuables. I was too young to remember the incident but I know that the thieves stole more than just our things–they disrupted our peace of mind.

Brazil hasn’t changed much since we left. The gap between the rich and poor remains remarkably grand. Instead of changing public policies and creating programs to better life for the Brazilian people, the government, saturated with corruption, continues to enrich themselves.

Living in Plantation, Florida, I grew up going to school in a uniform. My parents no longer worried whether my siblings and I would get mugged on our way home from school. Sadly, in other area’s around the U.S., this fear is a reality.  

During holiday seasons, we would return to Brazil. My parents constantly reminded my older brothers to keep an eye on my sister and I when walking in the streets, and to never let us wander alone. The encounter I am about to describe has happened on multiple occasions and continues to happen every time I return to Brazil, but this particular instance remains with me.

I must have been about eight years old. At this point, I had been living in the U.S. for over half my life. I was with my aunt and little cousin in the car. I don’t remember where we were going, but I remember the heat and humidity that day was unbearable. The AC was blasting in the car. We came to a stop at a red light, and a group of three kids ran in front of our car. They were dressed in old, tattered circus costumes. I supposed they wanted to look like clowns, but the scene wasn’t comical at all.

One of the boys didn’t have shoes on. The eldest looked to be about 13, and the youngest was around five. In the minute and a half that my aunt, my cousin, and I waited for the light to change, these three children performed a perfectly choreographed routine. They were dancing and juggling pins with smiles on their faces. I was the same age as the boy in the middle. We made eye contact. I thought to myself, “My parents never let me play in the streets in Brazil.”

After the routine, they split up and walked around cars asking for some sort of donation. My aunt said she wished she had a spare sandwich or some crackers to give them (she often brings snacks around with her for situations like this). I asked her why she doesn’t give them some change, maybe just enough for the little boy without shoes to buy a cheap pair of flipflops. She explained that only a small portion of the money they collect is theirs to keep and that close by their “boss” is watching.

We were all around the same age, but the circumstances we were born into differentiated us. These little boys worked in order to survive. They wore clownish outfits and practiced under-appreciated routines instead of learning to read and write. They were exploited. This is the reality of children all over the world.

Every child deserves their innocence. Education, healthcare, clean drinking water–these are all human rights. Here are some facts provided by UNICEF: more than 85 million children are subjected to physical labor exploitation and trafficking, 57 million children are out of school worldwide, and the commercial sex trade exploits two million children worldwide.

So, why care about social justice? Why do we try to make a difference in the lives of others if we are not personally responsible for their fate? Because the responsibility is a moral obligation. By remaining ignorant to the realities of others, we sustain the problem.

I work for the International Panel on Social Progress, a recently-developed panel that seeks to solve societal issues using the research of sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and social activists from around the globe.

In a recent interview with an IPSP panel author, philosopher, and Columbia University Professor, Akeel Bilgrami, Bilgrami talks about how each one of us thinks in two individual frames of thought: our individual frame and our public frame. Psychologists call this “the frame problem.” It is a natural reaction for us to feel empathy towards an issue like child labor when faced with a direct encounter. In that moment, we may feel anger and a desire to change a societal reality.

Unfortunately, our individual frame of thought quickly disregards these feelings, accepting the situation as a fact of life. We go on with the rest of our day and the problem of child exploitation remains.

It doesn’t have to, though. How can you make an impact? Stay informed and aware of the societal problems around you, talk about them with friends and family. Get in contact with NGOs that aid the societal issues that you are passionate about. Take action. Are you taking part in societal progress, or are you complying with injustice?

Children are our future–get involved with UNICEF. Start a high school club or take initiative on campus: High School and College.

You can also check out some of the videos I shot and edited that feature the authors in the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP). Learn how they are taking action towards social change within their fields of research. Like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter

Informative Videos:

Sofie Wolthers is a social activist and journalist specializing in photography and videography. She is currently working for the International Panel on Social Progress. She is a senior at Loyola University of Chicago, where she is Vice President of her school’s UNICEF chapter. She was born in Brazil, but has lived in the United States most of her life. Sofie believes in social change, social progress, and equality for all. Contact: sofiewolthers@gmail.com

Rise.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.00.00 PM

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

neutraloppressorDoes my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.06.26 PMJust like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.10.24 PMDid you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.12.08 PMDoes my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.14.58 PMYou may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

ac6qxuw3ogsc6chngc5oDoes my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

11193321_10101769550134147_1503411069760286507_nOut of the huts of history’s shame
I rise

martin_luther_king_arrestUp from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

MarchonWashington1963I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

3034486-slide-s-1-hands-up-dont-shootInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

images

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

–Maya Angelou

Grappling with Social Justice

I find myself wondering if “social justice” is becoming a buzzword–a trending topic. On one hand, of course it is. Everyone wants social justice, right? How can a person argue against justice, especially in a country that defines its founding upon it, in a way? On the other hand, though, talking about it and living it are two different things–especially, in my opinion, when it comes to teaching for social justice.

Christine Sleeter (California State University, Monterey Bay) wrote a compelling piece for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education titled, Deepening Social Justice Teaching. In it, she addresses the very issue I am currently struggling to understand: what, in fact, does teaching for social justice look like now? How is it changing, and how can I evolve with it in order to best meet my students and my community? I don’t want this work to look like a trend; I want it to be my past, my present, and my future.

According to Sleeter (2015), “Teaching for social justice means developing democratic activism: preparing young people to analyze and challenge forms of discrimination that they, their families, and others face, on behalf of equity for everyone.” To me, that means meeting students where they are, asking them and getting them to ask questions about their world(s), and troubling the ideologies behind those questions and answers. Then, and most importantly, acting out in response to those thoughts.

Sleeter’s words (throughout this piece) encourage me to look past talking about issues, and toward talking back at them (hooks, 1988). Teaching for social justice is not just expressing one’s anger about the injustices found in our country, but acting out against them. As a teacher, I think “all of this” has more to do with how my classes are conducted–what we read, what we write, what we do, how we interact with our communities–and less about what is in my heart as a social justice educator. I can want the best for my students. I can hope for change, but I need to be social justice–be the change (as Jones mentioned in her TSJ guest post).

So, what can we do to make sure “social justice” isn’t trending, but is becomingbeingstaying?

Change is happening.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the negativity of -isms and -phobias existing in the world: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. However, the more I pay attention to the news, read [your] blogs, and listen to popular music, the more I realize that the world is changing, however slowly. This change is something that needs to be addressed, not only by ourselves, but in our classrooms.

Food for thought:

While at the JoLLE conference last weekend, Dr. Mollie Blackburn discussed how coming out is a form of activism. She is completely right, and we see the courage it takes in this video. One would think it would be easy for someone so famous, beautiful, and talented like Ellen Page to come out, but there is difficulty in her words — pain, even.

Shortly before Page came out at the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Sam shocked the world, aiming to be the first openly gay man playing for the NFL. While there has been a lot of push back against his announcement, it has been received better than expected (at least, in my opinion). Both of these inspirational examples, and their reception, seems to show that America is ready to accept the LGBTQ community — at least, more ready than it has ever been. That gives me hope, even though we still have a long way to go.