Powering the Future
Malala Yousafzai. Martin
Luther King, Jr. Mahatma Gandhi.
These well-known and celebrated activists have changed the course of the future because of their fights for civil rights. At West, Voice for the Nameless has won honors for their advocacy for civil rights and is known for their work in Des Plaines, in Chicago, and throughout the suburbs. Whether in a group or individually, West students are emerging as activists for important social justice causes.
“When I volunteer at an organization to feed people who are homeless or unemployed, I’m not expecting to change the number of people who are homeless or unemployed. But, I do it because I know I can change the way someone feels on one day — maybe make them happier — and to possibly make a difference in their lives,” senior Elizabeth Sofinet said.
Because of their outstanding contributions to community activism, Sofinet and senior Jelena Pejovic were honored two weeks ago as part of the Daily Herald Northwest Suburban Leadership Team. Sofinet, for example, has volunteered with Inspiration Corporation Cafe by cooking, taking orders, serving and cleaning up after meals for the homeless; she has also helped in the RefugeeOne after-school program for refugee children. Pejovic has been a regular volunteer at RefugeeOne, too, as part of Voice for the Nameless’ ongoing efforts there.
Current students and recent graduates have found different ways to advocate for equal rights and are motivated by the individual impact they can have, person to person. “For me, when people come together from different parts of the world, seeing that they face the same struggles and they’ve been in your shoes at some point — even if you haven’t faced those types of issues — and having that ability to give someone a voice who isn’t comfortable sharing their experiences: that’s something very special,” DePaul student Medinah Furqan, Maine West class of 2016, said.
In some cases, their volunteer work has transformed these students’ academic interests, too, shaping their college experiences and the majors they study.
“I became interested in transitional justice, which has so many applications around the world, to so many different contexts, conflicts, and societies. The classic examples are truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa, Guatemala, and other places, but other conversations about transitional justice and memorialization are relevant to our own society: the content of the 9/11 memorial, how we memorialize Confederate figures, and what justice looks like in towns with histories of lynchings,” Oxford University graduate student Angela Remus, Maine West class of 2012, said.
Studying social justice has influenced students’ personal values, too., “Don’t get me wrong, I like materialistic things, too. But, you find something that looks good and then 10 minutes later when you lose interest, you realize there’s nothing else left; it’s kind of empty. But, when you have the ability to give somebody a platform, or giving people that ability or having that relationship with somebody is incomparable. That’s why I wanted to do International Studies with a focus on International Human Rights Law.”
On top of that, Sofinet said, the subject is always ripe with new ways to improve the world for all people. “There’s always more to fight for. I plan on getting more involved with large organizations and participate in more events. Actually, one of the things I looked into when searching for colleges was how I can get involved in activism on campus, and ultimately it helped me in my decision making process,” she said.
With only one earth and one humanity, “You don’t have to be Native American to care about the [Keystone] pipeline; you don’t have to be African American to care about Black Lives Matter; it comes down to caring because you’re a human being. We have the same blood coursing through our veins; we are breathing the same air; we are living on this Earth and we have a responsibility,” Furqan said.