Summer can be a quieter time on campus. There is a lot of planning, reflecting and anticipation for the coming fall and the welcome of new students and return of current students. For the Scott/Ross Center Fellows it is a time to build new skills, expand on experiences and really immerse themselves in exploring the nonprofit sector and the connection to philanthropy and grant making. I am excited to share an excerpt from a reflection that Marissa Johnson, class of 2015 and a social work and political science undergraduate student has provided about her summer fellowship experience.
"I've spent the last three weeks at an organization called MataHari, founded by Simmons Alum, Carol Gomez. At its founding, the organization's purpose was to end sex trafficking. It has since expanded its mission to supporting women of color and immigrant women who are victims of human trafficking, sexual or domestic violence, human rights violations, and exploitation through direct service, community organizing, public policy, and advocacy.
At first it was invigorating, finally being "on the ground" in a grassroots setting. However, I soon felt overwhelmed, small, powerless, even. If I was feeling this way just working at MataHari, it's hard to imagine how the folks MataHari serves must feel every day. Even when working in a coalition with several other groups, it seemed that the majority of the work was in defense, only being able to make progress in small wins. This was the most challenging thing for me--feeling like our voices would never be heard was so discouraging, I almost found myself saying, "what's the use?"
I recall trying to share the story of a family going through deportation proceedings with a friend, and they simply didn't want to hear about it, they knew it would be a sad story and just didn't want to deal with that. It was so clear to me that her reaction and the way I had been feeling was such a display of privilege, being able to walk away from the cause, not having to listen, not having to do anything, while for countless people, they can't ignore this or walk away, it is the reality of their lives. As for my friend and I and all others who have the comfort and safety of citizenship, our silence only perpetuates this issue.
I began to regroup and strategize. During my whole time with the fellowship, I've been thinking about ways we can connect Simmons to the non-profit sector in Boston. I think it would be great if Simmons had some sort of group or forum to talk about these issues within the immigration system, especially because it is so prevalent in politics right now. I'm not sure if I'm thinking of starting an organization, or more like a forum to report news, updates, local actions and protests, etc. I've learned that what is quite powerful in immigration reform and helping stop deportation proceedings is organizing community voices (i.e. petitions, pledges, calling senators and representatives, etc.).
I talked to my supervisor and the Executive Director of MataHari, Monique Nguyen, and we've decided to start a campus organizing initiative. I think this is a good way to bring academia and theory down to ground with real life stories, both good for learning and perspective and "inspiring evangelists" for the cause. This idea of inspiring evangelists, or strongly engaging with people and volunteers to help them develop into committed leaders is one of the six practices outlined in Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, which also goes hand-in-hand with MataHari's grassroots approach. Because injustices are perpetuated by ignorance, having some sort of educational panel or workshop series could really squash stereotypes and misinformation and mobilize young people. Monique and I have already talked about running workshops together and training me to be able to execute informational sessions on my own for campus organizations and the general student/staff body at Simmons.
Walking away from this placement, I've realized that feeling discouraged and powerless is exactly how inequality persists, how people in power stay in power, how communities remain marginalized. Though it is much easier said than done, we must always remember that the one can not silence the many, that what is good and right does not come on its own, it needs to be fought for, that the people united can never be defeated. In other words, sí se puede!