People sometimes ask me why I became involved in advocacy. There are two different answers to this question, and though they might seem contradictory, both are accurate. The first, and simplest answer I can give is that I was “born this way” – meaning it’s truly how I was made. I do believe that’s the case. However, the answer that I typically give, and the one that feels the most sincere, is that anger is what led me to advocacy. Anger at the injustices that I saw and experienced; anger at the blatant disparities that persisted; anger at how apathetic so many people seemed to be about these inequities. And anger at how powerless I felt. I decided that rather than just remaining angry, I needed to try to do something…even if I failed. So I channeled my anger into action, allowing it to be my fuel.
Eventually, the anger subsided, but the purpose remained. As did the passion. And through my voice and my efforts, though sometimes unorthodox and rough around the edge, not only did the world around me slowly begin to transform, but inwardly I did too.
According to conventional definitions, an advocate is someone who openly supports, promotes, defends, or pleads for a cause. An activist is defined as someone who takes part in direct action to bring about change. Which one am I? I would say that I am both, and I think both advocacy and activism are needed. They are like different sides of a coin, and each serves a purpose. Ultimately, however, though I tend to use the word “advocate” more frequently, I think activism is what gets things done. There’s an African proverb that illustrates this concept well. It states, “Pray – but when you pray, move your feet.”
Advocacy and activism is in my blood, coursing through my veins. The principles which drive me are intertwined into nearly everything that I do – from the way I parent my children to the way I teach my students to the way I treat others, etc. It’s part of what guides my words when I write; it’s part of what I discuss in my public speaking; it informs my decisions with regard to my advocacy and activism endeavors. Rather than isolated actions, it is for me a way of life. So while it would probably be a lot more conventional (and easier) to provide you with a bulleted list of different forms of advocacy and activism that I have engaged in and list the accomplishments (and the failures? Because if I’m being real, there have been some of those too), it feels a lot more authentic for me to describe my philosophy on this topic (as I have done informally above).
Below are images depicting a few forms of advocacy and activism I have been involved in.