June 26th, 2015 marked the landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to extend Marriage Equality across the United States. As the outbursts of colorful rainbow celebrations on social media fade, I reflect on how this event rocked my world, both personally, and as a committed change-maker. Suddenly, with this historic decision I could openly marry whoever I want, just like anyone else. This moment will most certainly have a ripple effect of continuing attitude shifts of acceptance worldwide. Most people could never have imagined this becoming a reality, and once again, I am inspired and reminded that bold Vision can make everything possible!
In my own personal narrative, there are a few key global events of special significance that have shaped my belief in change-making. The first and most transformational life experience for me was studying abroad in Apartheid South Africa in 1986. The country was in a state of emergency and racism was institutionalized everywhere. Living in this context for a year as an American teenager, fueled my life-long passion for social justice and access to international education. I returned to the U.S. fired up, ready to make change and became active in the anti-Apartheid movement. I still remember my high school history teacher telling us that he was sure he would not see the end of Apartheid in his lifetime. And then, to world’s surprise, just a few years later, Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison to become President of the new South Africa.
In college, I studied abroad again, this time in Moscow, Russia in 1990. The Soviet Union was still firmly in place and the Cold War continued between the two superpowers of the world. At the time, Americans’ world view was completely shaped by this U.S. vs. USSR paradigm. We grew up hearing about the “Evil Empire” and fearing that the communists were going to launch a nuclear attack on our nation. We were told that we were the good guys, they were the bad guys, and we were both trying to influence the rest of the world. Nevertheless, I wanted to study abroad in Moscow and learn Russian. I was so curious that Americans had such strong opinions but almost no experience with ordinary Russian people. My time there was intense, challenging and fascinating. I witnessed firsthand how daily breadlines, constant food shortages, inefficiencies and corruption was clearly taking its toll on the Soviet people. And then shockingly, the year after my return home, the Soviet Union dissolved and an entirely new world order arose in such a way that few had ever imagined possible.
The break-up of Apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union gave me clear and concrete evidence in the power of change-making on a global scale. The fact that these countries, institutions, all-powerful systems and embedded paradigms existed for years and years and then suddenly could completely change, inspired me to imagine a different world order. This led to the founding of OneWorld Now! in 2002. I envisioned a world where our leaders were visionary, globally competent, compassionate, offering diverse perspectives and understanding the inter-connectivity of our actions in the world. I wanted to start by empowering young people, especially low-income and minority students in the U.S., with the sense of possibility, skills and experiences to become global leaders themselves.
You can then imagine the profound impact on myself and the OneWorld Now! youth when Barack Obama was suddenly elected as the nation’s first African-American President in 2008! I will always remember some of the inspired faces of our students on that historic day, as they celebrated this new leader, someone that actually looked like them, reaching the highest political office. I met Barack Obama just before he announced his bid to run for U.S. President. I remember seeing the Vision in his eyes when I said to him “Remember OneWorld Now!, because you are going to hear it again when you are President!” I knew then, from his knowing grin and that clear Vision in his eyes, that this man was going to become President — even when most people, whether voting for him or not, did not believe that the U.S. was ready to elect a black President.
Think about it! If the Soviet Union can fall, Apartheid can end, anyone can become President and marriage equality can be extended to all, then what other changes in the world can be made? These significant historical events inspire me further to boldly envision a world of possibility, even when others can’t quite see it — yet. Change can always happen and it is up to us to take action and Hold That Vision!
“I dwell in Possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson
This post was originally published on Medium.com