My thanks to Colette Juran ’17 who answered our call for a student perspective on the Social Justice Leadership Summit. Well done Colette…
On April 16th 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama, confined by law enforcement for protesting peacefully. From that very jail cell, Dr. King wrote a monumental letter discussing the urgent state of racial injustice that engulfed Alabama’s largest city. Within this letter exists a quote that skillfully distills any social justice movement into a single sentence, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 52 years later at the St. Luke’s Social Justice Leadership Summit (SJLS), I, Colette Juran, received that very quote on a small, pink slip of paper. Although initially I did not fully appreciate it, as the day unfolded the quote’s truth became apparent to me. Fact of the matter is, although some people like to believe humanity has progressed past it, inequality is still prevalent in our society today and it will likely be that way for a very long time. This inequality, however, should not be viewed as a daunting certainty of life, but a challenge for humanity to consider the balance of privilege in society and collectively better itself. From that day, I learned that it doesn’t matter whether a person who has privilege wants to participate in social justice movements, what really matters is what one does with that privilege, as current events have warned sometimes apathy can have terrible consequences. Upon understanding this challenge, my experience at SJLS inspired me to impact the world around me more than I could have ever hoped.
As it was my second year attending the Social Justice Leadership Summit, I had some insight into how the day was going to develop. I didn’t know exactly what events would occur or what topics we would discuss, but it was evident that everyone was undoubtedly going to face a healthy measure of discomfort. The idea of being entirely honest about one’s life, opinions, and experiences may seem immensely terrifying, but it was entirely necessary. Differences can never be changed if they are not acknowledged and progress can never be achieved if everyone refuses to make the first move. As Dr. King teaches us, this uncertainty and slight awkwardness is immeasurably better than ignorance and inaction.
These principles greatly influenced the activities that we were involved with, such as a debate on everyday scenarios of discrimination and the construction of a paper chains corresponding to our own individual privileges. Originally, those activities seemed quite intimidating to me as they involve on a lot of ideas that I don’t typically think about in my day-to-day life. For example, one of the questions for the paper chain activity required us to add a link to our chains if our race or ethnicity was positively depicted in the media. As a white female, my race’s portrayal in the media was never something I’ve had to think about as the majority of shows on television feature a primarily white cast. This may seem like a trivial concern, but our discussion later on showed for a young person of color being exposed to role models in the media, that aren’t just a caricature of racial stereotypes, is a vital role in development. Additionally, a large part of SJLS was thinking about our own impact on the community in which we live, learn, and grow. Therefore, a long period of time in the afternoon was dedicated to devising plans to progress the St. Luke’s Community. Ideas from a middle school buddy program to a social justice leadership day were organized; however, the bulk of the efforts were focused around modifying school curriculum to be more inclusive. In the upcoming months, interested attendees of SJLS will meet with department heads and administration across the school to achieve that very purpose.
Beyond completing various social justice oriented activities and creating several actions plans to educate the St. Luke’s community, SJLS provided me with a real example of the people affected by various adversities: my peers. At around nine o’ clock on Saturday night, some of the most emotional and impactful moments I’ve witnessed in my six years as a St. Luke’s student occurred at the closing event, the social justice sharing session. This event was an opportunity for people to share material relating to social justice through any method or media. Some presented poetry, videos, or music, but for most this was an occasion to speak directly about the hardships and morals provided by their own lives, with of course much crying. As each person talked, they unmasked a part of themselves that is usually concealed such as mental illness or sexuality with the utmost honesty. I cannot share the nature of what was spoken about, as they were all extremely personal, but I can conclude that I am proud of everyone that even did so much as to flash the ASL hand symbol for “I love you” to reassure someone during a difficult moment.
The sad fact of life is that in the modern era very few people stop and take time to consider the lives of others. Most people are too consumed in their own issues to realize that the people they pass in the hallways are not just extras in their biopic, but they have lives as full as their own. Although it is impossible to remember every passing face, it is not only possible, but also imperative to recognize that we all experience life differently, with different stories, different thoughts, and different opportunities. These differences, however, should not segregate us, as only bigotry and hate can motive that, but should be honestly spoken about, as that is the first step to making social change. These life philosophies of speaking openly from the heart, considering the experiences of others, and actively working towards a better future for humanity, should not be reserved to one summit. Ideally, they should be applied to the St. Luke’s community as a whole, because if I’ve learned anything from SJLS it is that life is infinitely better when it is not attempted alone and in the dark.