I decided to combine two events into one post not for lack of subject matter but because they both have roots in a single book I read back before I finished high school. Half the Sky was written by Nicholas D Kristof and Cheryl WuDunn and gifted to me by my grandparents, who have both phenomenal taste in books and skills in research. I owe a significant amount of my life perspective and knowledge on current affairs to these wonderful people, as well as my passion for the movement and my eventual participation/patronage at the Global Citizen Festival (2012) and Northeastern’s Empowering Girls panel event (2014).
I’ll start with the concert.
Global Citizen Festival Concert
Venue: Great Lawn Central Park, New York NY
It was actually Aaron who got the tickets–he won them in a radio contest, inspired to enter by his [borderline insane] love for the Foo Fighters and all concerts in general. Upon Googling what we had signed up for, which was a free concert in New York City (cue excited freakout here), we found that the concert was actually a charity festival run by the Global Citizen movement. Global Citizen works to reduce global poverty, with a goal to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. It was actually really cool that to enter the contest to win tickets, because they couldn’t charge for tickets in Central Park, concert-going hopefuls had to read about global issues and spread the knowledge. Information became the currency, and the world benefited from this single concert (as well as all subsequent concerts).
At the concert itself, hosts spoke between bands about the movement and the state of the world, which was both enlightening and inspiring. I was especially excited when Olivia Wilde came onstage to promote women’s equality with Half the Sky, by then one of my favorite books. She spoke about equality abroad and the importance of the movement, and then introduced some of the women who were actually in the book that had started movements of their own or who had survived terrible ordeals at the hands of sex traffickers and society. It was just so real like this was the moment in my life were everything came together, where my passion for the movement and the book and the music and the people and the world just connected. Aaron was at a bit of a loss when I started hyperventilating.
Anyways, music. Because there were so many bands there, I’ll just talk about my favorites, the Black Keys and Foo Fighters. Both were amazing live, to say the least. The Black Keys had just released their El Camino album, which is one of my favorites by them, and their set list reflected that. I just have to say it’s really cool to have listened to an album over and over, having memorized its lyrics and the bands’ patterns in how they play and sing, and then hear them live, echoing your memory but also improvising and creating again, allowing novel sounds to fill your head and merge with the familiar. Very cool.
Foo Fighters were fantastic, as I hear they always are, and it dawned on me how many of their songs are basically classics, that I knew them without knowing who they were by; Foo Fighters were an inherent part of my life and I didn’t even know it. Anyways, Aaron pretty much went crazy during this part (you can see that we were both very excited about different things) and actually started singing, which I found kind of awesome and kind of hilarious. We both jumped with the beat like everyone else scattered in the grass.
The Global Citizen Festival did not disappoint, and we were quite weary when we left NYC at midnight, taking the bus to South Station and trying hard to sleep. As anyone who has day-tripped to NYC from Boston will know, travel in itself can be exhausting. And Half the Sky would appear in my life a few more times after that; the PBS documentary was aired my sophomore year, which I watched in a deserted common room at Northeastern; Nicholas Kristof was scheduled to speak at Northeastern in April of 2013, but could not attend due to the Boston Marathon Bombing; I would flip through it when looking for inspiration, but didn’t ever try to reread the stories or relive the experience of a first reading.
Then, in April of 2014, the passion was reawakened.
Northeastern’s Empowering Girls Panel
This past spring, I attended Northeastern’s Empowering Girls panel event, which featured Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, and John Wood as guest speakers. Through moderator and founder/CEO of Care.com Sheila Marcelo, these amazing people spoke about the necessity of educating girls for the sake of communities worldwide. In light of the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls from their school, John Wood spoke about cowards. Cowards prevent girls from getting an education. Cowards take power away from those who can change the world for the better. He urged us not to be cowards.
What comes to mind when these amazing people share their stories is that we’re looking at things wrong. So many times, my perspective has shifted from selfish to selfless, lazy to active, when I realize how much can and should be done. Tonight we focused on empowering girls through education, and the need to educate all children–not just boys–around the world so as to provide communities with the chance to provide for themselves. But so much stands in the way of equal education, and so many problems are rooted in ignorance. On both sides.
In developing nations, poverty prevents education and a lack of education induces poverty. The cycle can be broken only if the parents realize this and choose to send their children to school, which is oftentimes a large sacrifice when money is scarce. But in America, most middle-class families can afford to send a girl in Africa to school for a year very easily. And we don’t. I feel like many of us take for granted our opportunities, the comfortable lives that we lead. We don’t see how much we can help, or what others suffer through; we try hard to not see the differences. Oftentimes, we blame the poor for their own situations, deeming them unworthy of a hand (and usually, we then feel good about our own successes that really have nothing to do with our prowess in life). Even more often, we ignore what we can’t see, and think of those in other places as irrelevant and inconsequential–“others” who have problems out of our control. After attending this panel, I realized how much good we can do. John Wood’s company, Room to Read, focuses on increasing girls’ literacy in developing nations where opportunities are harder to come by; he works with the parents in the community to build schools and develops an investment in education that changes the lives of both these girls and those in the entire community.
Educating girls–and all children, really–can be the turning point. Children who learn to read and are offered opportunities to expand their career choices bring the benefits of these careers and an appreciation for education to their families and future generations. When they grow up with their eyes open, these children become aware and active citizens, allowing the community and culture of the community to develop further. But there is no way out without an education. Poverty takes a toll on every aspect of society, and a lack of resources only makes it harder for its prisoners to escape its clutches. Why, in a society of so much wealth and privilege, would we not endeavor to aid our fellow human beings in the escape from constant struggle? Why not, if it is so easy?
We can do so much good. We can donate our money and our time, even our social media presence and word of mouth. (Just so you know, Room to Read is extremely fiscally efficient, very open about their work, and effective in their mission). Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, tell everyone who has the power to do something to take action. We can all be the change in the world. We all need to be.
I’m so glad that Northeastern has events such as these. Panels allow students to gain exposure to important modern issues, and give the movements featured an active audience. Thank you Social Enterprise Institute for inviting such wonderful speakers, and thank you Mr. Kristof, Ms. WuDunn, and Mr. Wood for being my inspirations. The world is lucky to have you.
There are people in this world who do terrible things. There are people who kidnap schoolgirls and oppress less-able citizens. There are leaders who grant rights to only half their citizens. There are brothers who sell their sisters and husbands who beat their wives. There are human beings all over the world who allow this to happen every day. As John Wood asked us in the quiet Blackman Auditorium, “when we look back on this era in history, which side do we want to be on?”