Must Have An Earnest Desire to Save the World

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Hello, all!

With just 85 days until I embark on my seven month long journey with Thinking Beyond Borders, I have begun my summer reading assignments. We have a handful of books to read pre-departure, the first being Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is a fascinating read, one consumed with thought provoking ideas. Throughout the novel, I yearned to drag my (former) fellow classmates from their places of comfort, drive over to our (former) AP English Lit class, and “circle up” to discuss these complex issues. Of course, I will be able to hold plenty of discussions with (new!) classmates come September, so I suppose I’ll have to hold my questions and theories and intrigues until then.

For those of you who don’t know (which is probably the majority of you) Ishmael is about a man’s efforts in becoming a proactive agent of change in the world. He answers an ad in the paper, “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Upon answering the ad, he discovers his teacher is a gorilla named Ishmael. Ishmael teaches him–and the reader–about how “Mother Culture” has taught us to believe certain ideas about “how things came to be this way.” 

Part of our summer assignment requires us to answer some journal questions. For Ishmael, these questions include:

  1. What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?
  2. What do you expect from your experience with TBB?
  3. What are your most pressing questions about development?

Tonight, I answered the first question. As I opened up my new, pristine, passionately red Moleskine, I decided it needed a bit of a wanderluster’s touch, so I inscribed the phrase, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,” into the first page. Here’s to seven months of life thinking beyond borders.

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Now, if you care to read, here is my first journal entry. I hope you enjoy. I certainly enjoyed writing it. There is something incredibly raw about journaling. You discover so much more about yourself journaling than you typing. I’m looking forward to filling up journal after journal and sharing as much of them with you as possible.


What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?

     When I look at myself as an “agent of change,” I suppose I make all kinds of assumptions, but at the moment I’m not sure I would classify them as “assumptions.” For me, right now, they are opinions, facts, feelings, ideas–just not assumptions. Because to have an assumption is to believe something that is most likely incorrect. But perhaps that’s my own assumption about the word’s connotation.

     Truthfully, when I first discovered the term “agent of change” I had an a-ha! moment because it’s just how I perceive myself–or at least the best version of myself–the version I hope to one day become. Over the past eighteen months, my life has been devoted to human rights advocacy. My thoughts are constant narrations of articles, exposes, editorials that I am perpetually drafting, writing, editing in my head. So, you know, those thoughts add up, and I’ve formed some serious opinions. . .er, assumptions (it’s a hard pill to swallow) about my role in the world as an agent of change.

     When I first decided I wanted to become an international journalist, it was a decision made with my gut and my heart–certainly not my head. (I personally believe that is how all important decisions should be made. . . Well, most. . . some). So, upon reflection, I began asking myself if I believed I could make a serious impact on the world by simply writing about it. My gut growled at me, “Yes, of course!” and my head did, too. But for a while, my brain had no explanation for its answer. That is, until one day in my Anatomy & Physiology class.

      We were learning about the reproduction system–an awkward, hysterical, curious, informative unit for any high school student. My class was incredibly. . . inquisitive about the topic of sex (go figure). Personally, I believed several questions to be basic knowledge for any 16 to 18 year old female–most questions raised were directed toward female anatomy and reproduction. The questions ranged from “What is the clitoris?” to other, specific questions about sex which I won’t delve into right now. It amazed me just how many girls were unaware of this vital information. And then it dawned on me: I had researched all this information on my own. I was not told any of this sexual knowledge; I was just curious, so I Googled. This realization led me to another realization: girls are ashamed and shamed when it comes to sex, yet boys are not. And this led me further and further into my questioning. How does this have anything to do with my being an agent of change, you ask? Well, it was that day that I realized that the root of my empowerment comes from my research, which is all thanks to journalists and writer-activists. The people I want to be.

     I love writing, and I love public speaking. Both of which, I realize now, are my main modes for sharing my ideas, my opinions, my assumptions. They are my way of educating the masses.

     My love of learning has brought me to unique and fascinating places, the best of which is Thinking Beyond Borders. Upon graduating high school just last week, I understand that I love learning because it is a universal vehicle for everywhere and anywhere I want my life to take me. So with all this said, I suppose my main assumption about myself as an “agent of change” is that my role is learner, writer, educator.

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Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument

I believe we are entering a new fourth wave of feminism, and in many ways, this article captures its essence: inclusion.

TIME

On April 10, artist Matt Lubchansky updated his popular webcomic series, Please Listen To Me, with a new comic called “Save Me.” It features a presumably mild-mannered fellow in a polo shirt who spots the “Man Signal” and barrels into a phone booth to emerge as a fedora-masked Not-All-Man, “defender of the defended” and “voice for the voiceful.” He catches the whiff of misandry in the air — a pink-haired woman in the middle of saying “I’m just sick of how men…” — and smashes through a plate-glass window to play devil’s advocate.

Matt Lubchansky (listen-tome.com)

It’s a sharp, damning satire of a familiar kind of bad-faith argument, the one where a male interlocutor redirects a discussion about sexism, misogyny, rape culture, or women’s rights to instead be about how none of that is his fault. And it struck a nerve.

The comic was retweeted and reblogged tens of thousands…

View original post 1,037 more words

How To Be a Fashionable Do-Gooder

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If you know my story at all then you probably know that Sseko Designs founder Liz Forkin Bohannon is pretty much my Changemaker hero. But if you don’t, here’s the 4-1-1:

So way back in October 2012, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small women’s leadership lecture at Coastal Carolina University. The lecture was given by a young woman, Liz Forkin Bohannon, who is the founder and CEO of Sseko Designs. Sseko Designs is a footwear and accessory company that provides scholarship and job opportunities to young Ugandan women during the 9 month gap period in which they raise money for university cost. Liz and Sseko completely changed my life. Liz taught me about reaching outside of your comfort zone, embracing the awkwardness and failure that life can leave on your doormat, and welcoming all that lies ahead–good or bad. After the lecture, I became consumed by human rights, particularly women’s rights and education equality. That lecture led me to founding this blog, and then to founding my organization, and now to my gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders. 

And once again, Liz and Sseko are helping change my life. We’re two weeks in to fundraising, and I have raised $3,600 for my global gap year! Now, Liz has agreed to help. Up until May 6, if you use the code “MattieAdventures” at checkout, 50% of your purchase will go to funding my gap year! How amazing is that? Now you can be the fashionable do-gooder you’ve always wanted to be.

Invest fashionably in a life dedicated to human rights and empowerment. Shop Sseko Designs!

Want to donate directly to my fundraiser? Go to: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532.

Empowering Beyond Borders–Because You’re Worth Your Dreams

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Sitting next to me is a mason jar housing a few remaining Hershey’s Kisses and Charleston Chews. One of my best friends inscribed “Happy Pills: Take as Needed–Unlimited Refills” on an attached label and prescribed them to me a couple months back. I’d like to say it’s the last vestige from that rough patch, but I’d be lying (and that’s a general no-no in the blogging community.)

You see, back in late January-early February, I received rejection letters from both my childhood dream school and one of my back-up colleges. To say it was a tough blow would be an understatement. Any semblance of self-worth went flying out the window–along with “the thing with feathers.” Where I was once fearless and optimistic, I became scared and cautious. I no longer knew how to have faith in the future–something I once held so dear. But, I was still waiting on three more letters. The old me would have spent the months of waiting consumed by day dreams of What Could Be. The new me built an army in my mind to fight off any thought of the best case scenarios. I refused to wear my coveted Brown sweatshirt, and I ran from any conversation about college (which were unfortunately frequent).

Then the fateful day came. I opened up my web browsers, and to my surprise, discovered I had been wait-listed at both Brown and Princeton. Remember that self-worth that shot out the window before? Well it came flying back in, eager to bask in the pride and joy. For the first time in a long while, I beamed. I beamed because I believed in the possibility of the future again.

But, what I have come to notice lately, is that outside influencers only offer temporary self-validation. No college can prove to me my worth. That is something I am going to have to figure out for myself. I have been evaluating these past few months lately, and I still wonder if I’ll ever be the girl I used to be before everything happened. Especially on days like today, when I am afraid of what lies ahead, I try to be that girl. But what I am slowly realizing is that not only can I never be that girl again, it’s okay that I can’t be her. Who I am now is who I am supposed to be. I have a greater self-worth than ever before, and it’s not reliant on anyone or anything other than myself. And maybe this fear I am feeling is just because I finally understand what is at stake here. Maybe my dreams are just bigger than ever before. And how grand is that? To know that your dreams are so big they scare you? I think that means you’re starting to truly live.

So what’s my fear you ask? Well, I have been invited to participate in the global gap year program Thinking Beyond Borders next year! This means that hopefully this September I’ll venture with 18 other students to Ecuador, Cambodia, India and several other countries for nine months to study global development issues. Basically it’s an educational year full of training for exactly what I want to do with my life (an international journalist–read: Nick Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn). Our year will consist of living with host families, fieldwork with local experts, academic study, language learning, and independent travel opportunities. Unfortunately, it does cost money. The total cost is about $30,000, but Thinking Beyond Borders has agreed that for every $1 I raise, they’ll raise $2! This means I need to raise $10,000 to experience this global gap year.

Understand my fear now? There are some nights that I am gripped by the panic of not reaching my fundraising goal. Then there are other nights where I think of how important this gap year is to me, how much it can teach me, and the incomparable lessons I will learn, and my optimistic soul says there’s no way the universe could take that away from me. But somewhere in the middle there’s a voice of reason, reminding me that I am going to do everything in my power to raise this money. And, after all, that is all I can ask of myself.

Last night I launched my online fundraiser: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532. I have 60 days to raise this money through the site (and then I have until July 1st to commit to TBB). I will host fundraisers, a letter writing campaign, a video campaign, apply for scholarships, and so much more. Yet, even with all that said, the fear still haunts me. It was especially prevalent today as my anxiety was high due to the recent fundraiser launch. I eventually calmed myself down by repeating, You are worthy of your dreams.” Because at the end of the day, I think that’s where fear of failure lies–in the belief that we are somehow not worthy enough for our dreams.

I have news for you (and for myself): if your dreams are big enough to scare you, you’re plenty worthy of them. It takes courage to dream big; to put your heart and soul on such a breakable limb; to look the unknown dead in the eye and continue walking forward. You see, fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s having the courage to keep dreaming even after you’ve been rejected. Look, I may not ever be the girl who never allowed the idea of the worst case scenario to haunt her again, but I am the girl who believes in the best case scenario, even with the worst case in mind. And that’s just as fearless.

To donate or understand the trip in full detail, please go to: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532

Go Do.

Here I am, splitting my conscious between planning for my gap year abroad with Thinking Beyond Borders and reading James Joyce’s “An Encounter” for AP English Literature, yet always subconsciously dreaming up adventures, when I come across this little magical sign I just had to share:

“But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

Ah, Joyce, I have never loved you more.

Go Do.

International Women’s Day 2014

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Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day devoted to empowering women of the past, present and future. My post is relatively short and sweet because I am fortunate enough to be spending the weekend with some of the most inspiring women I know. It’s weekends like these, filled with passionate rounds of Pictionary, magnificently un-choreographed dance scenes in the car, and memories made around dinner tables, that make me realize how lucky I am.

IWD’s theme this year is Inspiring Change. As part of IWD, I encourage every one to recognize the women in your life–or in society in general–who inspire you. If you have social media, post a photo of an inspiring woman with “#sheinspires.” Spread the word and empower the women in your life. Above all else, remember that female inspiration and empowerment lasts longer than one day. Each and every day, there are hundreds upon thousands of women changing the world. Be thankful for them. I know I am.

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In search of a female role model? Look no further! Here are three of the most bold, daring and brave women in history. Oddly enough, they go relatively unnoticed as far as the history books are concerned–and were even deemed “unusual” in their societies. This TEDEd lesson gives an inspiring animated lesson on three Victorian women–Marianne North, Mary Kingsley, and Alexandra David-Néel. From globe trotting botanist to resilient crocodile fighter to covert Himalayan hiker, these women make me want to set sail on my own exploration at dawn.

Check out the entire TEDEd lesson on “the contributions of female explorers” here.

Traveling Botanist, Croc Fighter, and Himalayan Hiker

The Beauty of Lupita Nyong’o

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Lupita Nyong’o: Oscar winner and Yale grad

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has dominated social media and water cooler conversations alike since her stunningly poignant and eloquent acceptance speech last night.

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. -Lupita Nyong’o

As the talk of the town, Lupita seemed to be in every Oscar centered conversation at school. It’s wonderful to hear so much buzz about a female actress, especially considering the ferocious gender bias in awards and the 5:1 ratio of men to women working on films.  Yet as happy as I was to join in on the girl crushes over this talented Yale grad, I couldn’t help but find that something was amiss in the conversations. When naming off her numerous inspiring qualities, about every other characteristic there was a consistent clamor over her appearance: “And she’s so pretty!”

There is no doubt Lupita Nyong’o is a beautiful woman. Lupita Nyong’o is pretty. But she’s so much more than that. It would be one thing if the comment was made once or twice, but every other quality? What does this say about our youth? What does this say about media’s influence on girls? What does this say about the female perspective? To me, it seems to be saying that girls–and women–place the most subjective and uncontrollable and insignificant character trait above a myriad of the most rare and honest and inspiring characteristics. Girls, it seems, believe outward appearance–beauty–to be the pièce de résistance of Oscar winner and Yale graduate Lupita Nyong’o. And I can’t just place the issue on every one else. I am a part of the problem, too. While I may not have piped up incessantly about Lupita’s “prettiness,” it is certainly one of the first adjectives I think of.

Before I continue, let me get a few things straight. I am aware that physical beauty is just that–physical, and so it is doubtlessly one of the first adjectives we respond with. I am in no way diminishing Lupita’s beauty, and I am especially not diminishing the idea of beauty. Rather, I am simply trying to point out the curious favoring of outward beauty over the rest of the rainbow of inspiration.

What intrigues/mystifies/angers me the most about this issue is the unavoidable attachment of the varying “degrees” of beauty onto a woman. Something I always try to do when a somewhat gender related issue arises is the good ole’ fashion gender swap. For instance, if these Oscar conversations had been centered around Matthew McConaughey, would various people repeatedly mention his handsomeness as a primary quality? Probably not. Sure, it may get tossed out a couple times but certainly not every other word. I googled the definition of beauty, and the second entrance on Dictionary.com is “a beautiful person, especially a woman.” Since the dawn of time, woman has been unwillingly coexisting with the haunting notion of beauty. What a horridly subjective concept to be dealt. It’s no wonder we’re so focused on actresses’ appearance. By definition, women are beautiful people. And they are! But with unrealistic and Photoshopped expectations of the “ideal beauty” consuming our every waking hour, how can we expect to be content with the beauty we’ve been naturally given?

Lupita delivered a powerful speech at Essence Magazine‘s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in which she reflects on her own journey through self-love. As an adolescent girl myself, her words rang the bell of my deepest insecurities. But it is in her speech about beauty that Lupita reminds us all that she is so much more than her beauty.

We are exposed at the earliest of ages to ardently respect, fervently admire, and desperately seek the elusive concept of beauty. It’s definition changes within the hour, and even the “ideal beauty” image has morphed over the decades. What has remained constant (at least in the past decade or so) is the reminder that beauty is self-defined. Beauty is more than just a thigh gap or curvy hips or long legs or skin color or dress size. Beauty is self-acceptance, self-ownership, self-love, self-confidence. Beauty is self–both in and out. 

Does it seem like I’m contradicting myself here? Tossing out the glorification of beauty and then defining it? Maybe the truth is that the concept of beauty is a balancing act. It certainly should not be the focal point of a woman’s description; yet, it is a seemingly permanent part of society which we must learn to embrace in the least critical way possible. We must not allow beauty to define us. We must define beauty. 

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Lupita Nyong’o accepting her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 12 Years a Slave. Defining beauty in her own right.