Together, We Are a Movement for Social Change

January 8, 2018

By Luiza Kinzerska-Martinez, University of Miami

This blog post is part of a two part series on the second annual national convening of Newman Civic Fellows hosted by Campus Compact the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The two essays in this series are written by Newman Civic Fellows who won an essay competition among attendees of the convening. This essay is written by Luiza Kinzerska-Martinez, an international studies and English literature student at the University of Miami.

The sun was just starting to rise when I boarded on a plane at 7:00 am to head to the 2017 Newman Civic Fellows National Conference in Boston. Once I found my seat, I looked out the window and noticed drops of rainwater clinging onto the window’s surface. As the plane prepared for takeoff, they began to shudder and swirl with the force of the winds. At that moment, I felt just like the raindrops: frenzied by the anticipation of what was going to come next.

Upon arrival in Boston, I suited up to face the frigid winds and made my way to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate using “The T,” Boston’s metrorail system. On the first day of the conference, fellows were given a tour of the institute and the chance to exchange ideas for change across our campuses. I met over one hundred fellows from all over the country, including several from my own state of Florida. One of the first interactive opportunities fellows had was the collaborative creation of a cohort asset map; we each wrote down on sticky notes what we would like to learn from other fellows, projects we may undertake together or public problems we are passionate about, and pasted them on the walls for all to see. Fellows then walked around the room, read the hundreds of vibrant-colored written messages, and identified others with similar interests, so as to connect with them later on. Though each sticky note was only 3×3 inches, every one of them was bursting with diverse and passionate ideas. All of our civic interests are unique, yet intertwined in some form or another. As I navigated through the neon sea of sticky notes, I felt so thankful to be a part of this group of activists and change makers with a common drive for social change.

After the sun had set and our initial exchanges ended, there was a panel of guest speakers who spoke about the difficulties that come with innovating solutions for global challenges. One of the panelists, Adam Foss, is a civil rights prosecutor, former assistant district attorney, and founder and president of Prosecutor Impact, an organization that encourages prosecutors to employ positive, sustainable interventions toward better outcomes for communities. Foss is also an advocate for criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration. In his professional career, he has learned that the fight against injustice is more difficult than it seems and it can be very demoralizing. These feelings may lead us to forget the victorious moments that we have had. Foss’s statement motivated me to reflect on my experiences thus far as a young professional working to advance social justice in my community. I realized that it is easy to lose sight of the fire that drives you, especially when others say that you are too young and inexperienced to make a difference. Yet, Foss also said that as individuals, we can make a mountain of difference, but together, we make a movement. Though at times it may be difficult to overcome obstacles in the way, the thought that there are so many other passionate individuals making a change for the better drives me forward. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with.

This is the sense that I got out of the Newman Civic Fellows conference in its entirety; it was all about affirming the power that comes with a passion and drive for social change. Fellows were given the opportunity to exercise this power in an iconic setting: the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s replica of the United States Senate Chamber. On the second day of the conference, all fellows assumed roles as senators from across the United States. I was sworn in as a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and, over the course of two and a half hours, I consulted and debated with fellow senators about legislative provisions and amendments. The bill under debate was the Agricultural Act of 2014, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. This legislation is updated and renewed every five years by Congress, and is the main agricultural and food policy approach taken by the federal government to address the demands of farmers. As senators, our goal was to ensure that the policy would meet the needs of farmers across the country for the next five years.

To everyone’s pleasant surprise, negotiations and discussions during the module were civil, peaceful and effective. Though we represented and advocated values from opposing political parties, all fellows came together to push forward legislation that would create some sort of positive change for farmers across the United States. As a result, we passed the Farm Bill with an overwhelming 61 to 17 vote. Prior to participating in the Senate Immersion Module, I had a vision of what working in Congress is like based on what I have seen in the media. Yet, my experience as a senator from Massachusetts helped me affirm that when there’s a willingness to bring about change and a common desire for justice, the results are extremely rewarding. Most importantly, I have discovered that just about anything is possible.

After the Senate Immersion Module, I headed over next door to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum where several TED talks were taking place. One of the many distinguished speakers was Dan Fenn, former staff assistant to JFK and founding director of the JFK Library. At 94-years-old, Fenn makes time to speak to others about the need for individuals who are service-driven. As he spoke about his experience being JFK’s right-hand man, he also discussed how his service to the community has impacted his career trajectory and helped him learn more about himself. In that moment, I began to reflect about what my work in community engagement has helped me discover. My experiences have unveiled many passions and values of mine, among them the environment, global citizenship, human rights, gender equality, social justice and peacebuilding. There are many paths that people can take to discover what their niche is, and I was so glad to finally understand that mine lies with giving back to others, but also learning from them. Once Fenn finished his talk and walked off the set, hearing the massive applause of the crowd and seeing so many people stand up in the name of service made me beyond happy to be where I am. This is one of the reasons I choose to do what I do.

In the short span of just two days, I met with nearly two hundred fellows in a replica of the United States Senate Chamber, was moved by the inspirational and interactive talk made by panelist Adam Foss, took on the role of a senator from Massachusetts and met one of John F. Kennedy’s staff assistants. I have learned that there are so many ways that my passions can fuel advances in human rights, gender equality and social justice. Most importantly, I’ve discovered that the journey is that much more rewarding and enjoyable when you have other zealous, driven and selfless activists working alongside you.

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