Hang on Tight

Where did the month of October go? From recovering from September’s weekly excursions, to traveling around the US to see family and to hustle for toilets, this month has flown by. And despite all the change and the movement, I have noticed that I am in a perpetual state of advocacy for health equity and social justice- which is evidenced by the series of campaigns and experiences that I have lead or been a part of during this month listed below:

  • After touching down in Atlanta following 24+ hours of traveling and layovers, I hit the ground running by attending the 2015 Atlanta Pride Parade with my little sister. Atlanta, a community that struggles to embrace its identity, is both a socially progressive city while also being entrenched in conservative aspects of southern pride. This conflicting reality makes events like Pride particularly intriguing. Weary spectators in everyday attire stop to digest the scene on the outer parts of the city, but as the parade advances to midtown, costumes are present, music is loud and the pride of the LGBTQIA Atlanta community reverberates amongst all those who are present.#FILA #ATLPride

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  • Stop 2 on my October advocacy ride was on October 12th. Colloquially this day is known as Columbus Day in America, celebrating the “discovery of the new world”. But as we all know, discovering this new world came at a high cost-destroying a large majority of the Native American community and annihilating a huge portion of its people. Beyond the one sided perspectives that American history books boast, this became personal for me. As I have become increasingly knowledgeable and proud of my Native American heritage and tribal traditions, the celebration of this day became hypocritical -like a mockery. So in honor of the resilience of the Native American culture, traditions, and people, I proudly celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on October 12th as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day because I am proud to forever be a Delaware. #nanticoke #turtleclan

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  • Next, my GHC and ZamFam sister, Reena, had me thinking about #whyAllGirls matter on the International Day of the Girl. This day of social media activism is intended to show to the world why ALL girls are valuable ALWAYS because as 51% of our global population and the mothers of our future generations, girls have and will continue to change the world. Check out this fantastic piece the Reena wrote in honor of this day here.

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  • Moving to October 15th; it was Global Hand Washing Day. As a WASH enthusiast and toilet talker, hand washing is of course in my direct scope of work and is crucial in sustainable change as it relates to the global water and sanitation crises. Washing your hands acts as a DIY vaccine by preventing the spread of some really nasty diseases so remember to get sudsy yall because #everybodypoops!

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  • Following this campaign came the incredible opportunity for me to become an official Huffington Post contributor for the segment “what is working”, which is blog intended to combat the “if it bleeds it leads” journalism mentality. Never having experienced such a vast and international readership, my first post (an iteration of the “Because I can + Because I Have to” post) was more or less torn to shreds by critics. The deeply pitted emotion that resulted from the onslaught of so much criticism on a particularly vulnerable piece for the first time, really had me questioning whether or not this was the work that I really wanted to do. #findingmyplaceinthefightforsocialjustice

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  • Last on my October advocacy ride, was the launch of our Wish for WASH Indiegogo campaign to support our beta toilet pilot in Zambia next year. With very little knowledge or expertise in fundraising, I have learned just how much work it takes to gain money for a cause that does not directly benefit the lives of the donor, which is how most commercial products/services that I have known attract funding; however, our creative and determined team chooses to press on and are thankful for all of the supporters that we have attracted and all of those that we hope to attract before December 2nd! Help us gain #1000strong supporters by donating because #everybodypoops!

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While this roller-coaster ride of advocacy has been incredible and will only continue to grow since all of these issues are irreversibly interconnected, I have realized that it is essential that I step back to think.

Does being an advocate mean fighting for every cause with all of your heart?

Does being an advocate mean getting attacked for presenting your personal views?

These are questions that I have been asking myself. Advocacy is essential in the movement for global health; however, it can be a slippery slope if you are not intentional with your words and actions. As one of my mentors has told me, in order to be a successful advocate for social change, you have to be smart in choosing when, where and how you fight for your cause in an effort to make the most meaningful impact. Many social advocates suffer from empathy overload- or being incredibly empathetic to seemingly every social problem in the world leading to a depressing and exhausting existence. I have learned that it is important to set personal boundaries for myself so that I do not become crippled with paralyzing sadness; ultimately, being overrun with sadness disables anyones ability to push the needle of change for issues about which they care. I am still new to this work and am very much still learning how to navigate this space, but I do know that those who choose to intentionally pursue communications and advocacy have an under-appreciated mental toughness and commitment in order to start many of these controversial, taboo, and uncomfortable social conversations. I have gained a whole new perspective and respect for this work because it is extremely hard,  but it is also necessary.

Long story short, this work requires a thick skin, an ability to brush off the haters, the capacity to reflect and say “how can I express my perspectives better”, and the overall strength to hang on tight for the exhilarating ride of being a voice for social justice. I am still very much learning all of these things and now realize that it truly is a roller-coaster.

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