It began with a whisper. Nearly 1,000 students faced one another, divided down the middle. The two sides chanted separate words.
The right side, "stand." The left side, "up"
Louder and louder, the voices propelled outward to fill ever crook of the Roone Arledge Auditorium. Stand Up. Stand Up. Stand Up.
What began as a whisper ended as a unified challenge. A challenge that will ring in the ears for a very long while. A challenge to one another. A challenge to the world. A challenge to stand up against poverty.
This weekend I am attending the 2010 Millennium Campus Conference at Columbia University. Students come from almost every colored quilt patch of the USA, each carrying a different story, a variety of titles and, undoubtedly, a bundle of causes. From the fight for clean water to the AIDS crisis in Africa. But with the word "different" set aside we all quickly found the same purpose.
To create and spread a student movement through an interwoven dialogue between student groups, CEOs, entrepreneurs and youth leaders. To Own the Heavy Hearts We Have for International Development. To Turn Those Heavy Hearts Into Torches and Set the World Blazing.
On Monday, the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals will blow out ten birthday candles, with little to no celebration. With ten years down and five more to go, there is much to be done in order to make these eight goals any more than a set of naive ideals. Statistics still belabor every inch of this planet. 759 million people worldwide are still illiterate. 22,000 children still die every single day.
I have to shield myself from a lot of negativity as of lately, especially when I explain to someone that I am the liaison for a NGO at the United Nations. Immediately I am informed that the UN is doing something wrong, that the goals are ridiculous, that the UN had better speed it up in the next five years. In return, I wish to say: If you are able to tell me exactly what is wrong then use your next sentence to tell me what you are doing to make it right.
We can talk about what is wrong for days and days. Honestly, we don't even need to exhaust ourselves with talking about it. Just look around, do one Google search, talk to one person outside of your comfort zone. It is enough to make anyone curl up in the corner of the subway and just give up. Just Give Up Because There Is Too Much. Too much poverty. Too much disease. Too much genocide & infanticide & gendercide.
It is as if the world has been handed to us, but when we stop to look closer we realize that it is full of misspelled words and incomplete sentences. And there is no red pen in sight.
I found the red pens this weekend. An auditorium full of them. I can tell you that sitting next to my peers--the passion echoing louder than the sound speakers-- I had instant goosebumps. "Here are the red pens," I thought to myself. As I looked around the room I had a hard time picking out any one individual who would fail to the change the world one day, if they have not already changed it already.
The red pens don't exist only on college campuses. Each and every one of us is a red pen, geared with ink to splatter this world and leave it never the same. We hold the compassion & the drive, the skills & the power to take the word "change" and make it stand on its own.
Alone, we are a single voice in a world that is far too noisy. Alone, we are only attempting to solve grand problems and finding out quickly how it feels to hold a paper towel against a tidal wave. Together, we are a brigade of red pens ready to edit this screwed up yet brilliant word document of a world. We are called to edit this world and bring new statistics into being. Statistics Of Gains. Of Leaps. Of Bounds. Thousands being educated, millions sipping on clean water, billions living to hear a bedtime story tonight.
We each have choices to make at the end of the day. We can shield our minds from tragic stories and we can simply turn a cheek. We can certainly place blame. Pointing fingers is easy.
Or, we could stop, stop sitting and waiting for change to arrive in our inboxes or at our doorsteps. We could meet change halfway.
And if we all start walking towards change, together instead of one by one, we can shake the world.
Honestly, after this weekend, I can already feel the world shaking beneath my feet.