Conference Spotlight

Interview with Miami Fellow, Constance Thurmond

Constance Thurmond, a MCC15 and Fellowship alumna, studied Philosophy and Mandarin at Miami Dade. Now, she is headed to Yale for the last two years of her undergraduate program. We were honored to interview her and learn from her as she reflected on her time as a MCN Fellow. 

Please note: the answers have been reformatted into the third person voice. 

I understand that you’re involved with the Human Rights Alliance at your college, how did you become interested in this work?

When Constance was sixteen years old, she attended a fundraising event to increase the awareness of local sex trafficking. She was faced with the horrors of sex trafficking inflicting the world, and especially, the area around her. She was appalled and shocked to learn that boys and girls, just like her, were ensnared in this monstrosity. Although she was at first dismayed by this information, she then became inspired to face this injustice head on, instead of shrinking in its enormity. In rearview, that was the moment that sparked her journey into the social impact sector. 

You attended the fellowship right after the conference, what was your initial motivation to beginning the fellowship?

Constance heard about the fellowship when she attended the 2015 MCN conference at the United Nations in New York. She learned that the fellowship would open up a new hubsite in Miami, where Constance went to school. As she had just been thrown into the position of  president of Human Rights Alliance, she felt insecure in her knowledge about organizations, leadership ability and to how to mobilize students. Passion was the only thing she was really sure of. After attending MCC15, she knew that the fellowship would give her the necessary skills to manage the club, get involved in the community and to truly make an impact, especially in combating sextrafficking. She wanted to be surrounded by a community that would encourage, teach and inspire her, which she found in the fellowship.

How has participating in the fellowship impacted you and your work?

Before the Fellowship, Constance had not had the chance to learn her strengths and weaknesses as a leader. By pairing the guidance of the fellowship with her newfound role as president of Human Rights Alliance, she was able to flex her pipes as an organizer, gain invaluable skills and have the supportive community needed to learn from her mistakes. Constance cites depth  as one of the most valuable aspects of the Fellowship. She was not only able to dig deeper into the topics presented at the conference, but also had the time and space to build meaningful relationships with the Fellowship community. This community or peers served as a network of connections, but even more so, was a collective of teachers and learners. For example, she found that the session “Facilitated Peer Feedback” gave her the opportunity to receive unbiased, new perspectives from her peers about problems on her campus and organization. This created an ebb and flow of reciprocity, always giving and receiving support. The tools that she gained from the fellowship seemed invaluable to her. She commented on the importance of discussing ethical dilemmas (she studied philosophy), diving deeper into leadership transitions, as well as budgeting and finances. She found that not only her club and her professional life grew from this experience, but her personal life also flourished and became more organized. In her own words: “It’s not just something you will apply to college, but will apply to life.”

What would the perfect world look like? 

Constance started glowing when asked this question. It is clear that the vision of the world as it should be, inspires her actions daily. She talks about a world where there would be no such thing as the sustainable development goals, because the world would not have the need for it. She dreams about a society that doesn’t have words for poverty, hunger and violence. And with a snicker, she adds that this utopia should include full-time access to candy that doesn’t make people “fat”. Most importantly though, it would be a place where people are simply nice to one another.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing the fellowship?

“I would encourage you to do it [...] if you are a person who wants to grow,” she says. Constance talks about how the fellowship provided her with an open space for learning, growing and evaluating.

One word to describe your work: Passionate

What was your favorite part of conference? Speakers

MCC and Mama Hope: Finding My Passion

Coming into MCC, I had nothing but a swirl of emotions running through my head. Excitement, for the wonderful people that I knew I would meet. Curiosity, to learn more about the amazing work these youth leaders were doing in their respective areas. Amazement, for I had the opportunity to spend a week discussing issues of global relevance at the UN. However, I was also fearful. As a student, I had an interest in many different topics, including public health, women’s empowerment, and community outreach. I was struggling to find a way to integrate my passions in a meaningful and impactful way to serve the greater community. 

Lost in these thoughts, I went to different sessions at MCC hoping to meet others that were going through the same challenges that I was. One afternoon, I ended up just following some friends into a crowded workshop that I originally hadn’t planned on attending...

AsylumConnect Spotlight: Marie-Esther Buh

by Marie-Esther Buh via the AsylumConnect Blog

The day I learned about AsylumConnect (or "AsCo" as I call it) was the day my life changed for the better.

I met Co-founder Katie Sgarro at the 2015 Millennium Campus Conference (MCC15) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. During one of our many group discussions, Katie spoke about AsylumConnect and I thought this is what I should be doing. The passion with which she explained the organization’s goals made me think that I so badly wanted to be her. I was so intrigued that I began to talk so much and ask her so many questions, that by the end I’m pretty sure Katie was tired of me. Throughout the conference, I spent my time reading about AsCo and trying to find ways to become very involved in the organization. After not too long, my application was accepted for the position of AsCo University Chapter Coordinator and the pride I felt upon receiving that news reverberated in everything I did.

See, I’ve gone through life with a basic knowledge and familiarity with the process of seeking asylum. To me, asylum seeking has always seemed like a common act. I have family members that have successfully received asylum in the U.S. and they always told me how easy a process it was for them. So when I heard about the hardships facing LGBTQI asylum seekers, I was a little bit shocked. I was unable to fathom the idea that while most can easily gain asylum for saying their country hates them, LGBTQI people continue to face many challenges. When people who identify within the LGBTQI community seek asylum, the results and reactions change. I became so enraged at this discovery and my mood didn’t change after finding so many more stories about the discrimination faced by LGBTQI asylum seekers. As a result, I vowed to help the 300,000+ LGBTQI asylum seekers in the US.

This decision did not come so easy for me. I had to evaluate my surroundings and make sure it was worth the risk.

I had to make sure that I could handle whatever came my way in the future. And yes, there will be ups and downs, failures and successes along the way – but I chose to go through that with the team I’m part of now rather than alone. I know that at the end of the tunnel there will be a bright light and I firmly believe that many people will benefit from AsCo – and that is what keeps me going.  

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To participate in a discussion with peers across the globe and engage with experts on Refugee Law and Policy, click the button below to RSVP for the next Global Peace Forum.

Solidarity Share- Intersectional Poverty

This "Solidarity Share" was presented as part of a Keynote Plenary at the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. Solidarity Shares were created by pairs of Delegates from different communities across the globe, finding shared points of struggle, joy, and connection. We hope their stories inspire you to connect across borders, to see the ways that struggles in your community might benefit from solidarity with others.

Mia: My name is Mia Lei, and I am from North Carolina, USA. In my community, poverty is a challenge for global health.

In developing nations, 90% of health care expenses are paid out-of-pocket - the cost burden falls overwhelmingly on the poor. North Carolina paints a similar for the 450,000 people who do not have health coverage and cannot afford basic health care due to politics. Poverty affects health the same everywhere- global is local and local is global.

David: My name is David Maduri, and I am from Kenya. In my community, poverty is a challenge for education.

Poverty is a barricade to a education. Forty two percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa will drop out before graduating primary school - this leads to unemployment, which affects their ability to afford education for their own children - it is an endless cycle.

M: Poverty is the underlying determinant of all of our issues - it affects and is affected by health, education, environment, and technology. It makes our issues intersectional. And that intersectionality requires solidarity from us. By addressing poverty and addressing our issues together, we can create a stronger movement for development and equity. Just imagine if our movements worked together - think how much stronger we could be.

D: Imagine if there was an initiative to support rural children around the poor Lake Victoria region to get an education and make a difference in their own communities. That is my non-profit - educationHOPE. Imagine how children can make better decisions about their own health and their own lives once they´re educated.

M: Now imagine that there were student organizations that educated us not only about partnership-based service models and health inequities, but also empowered us with the strategic negotiating skills to create health policy change in our own communities. Those are my organizations - GlobeMed and the American Mock WHO.

D: Change is not necessarily the huge expectations of the world today , but the inconsiderable shreds of motivation that one puts on another´s life to make them realize their purpose. The foundation of the better world we want for a tomorrow is the action we take today - we are the future of the world.

 

M: As the future of our world, it is up to us to make the world the better place that we imagine. We can make the choice to fight for the right to not just survive, but thrive. We fight for change for with those in poverty.

And while we may fight with the poor, we are rich in so many ways. Change does not happen without power – and we are rich in the power of our experiences. Change does not happen without determination - and we are rich in our passion. And change does not happen without people - and we are rich in our communities.

D: Yesterday, many of our discussions focused on knowing the community we work in and listening to them before acting. Thus, solidarity is required not only between our issues, but also within our communities. When we work in solidarity, we will get more done, but recognition is shared.

M: So the question that I have for you today is this – why are you here? Are you here to feel good, or do good? Because they’re not always the same thing. Let us be students that do good and fight for change in solidarity with our communities. We challenge you not to focus on being heroes and changeMAKERS, but servers and changeAGENTS that work in solidarity with one another.

D: Our issues require action. Our issues require intersectionality. And our issues require solidarity. Our challenge is to work together.

M&D: Our struggles are your struggles.

 

Solidarity Share - Cultivating Empathy

This "Solidarity Share" was presented as part of a Keynote Plenary at the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. Solidarity Shares were created by pairs of Delegates from different communities across the globe, finding shared points of struggle, joy, and connection. We hope their stories inspire you to connect across borders, to see the ways that struggles in your community might benefit from solidarity with others.

Marie-Esther Buh and Kei Pritsker

East Orange, New Jersey, USA and Weston, Connecticut USA

 

My name is Marie-Esther Buh and I live in East Orange, NJ. In my community, literacy is a problem. Literacy is literally the possession of education. For most people in my community, a High School Diploma, GED or some college education is their limit and this affects their level of understanding.  

My name is Kei Pritsker and I am from Weston, CT. Empathy is a challenge in my community. Weston is one of the wealthiest towns on the planet. My community does not empathize with struggling people because issues like poverty and war only exist within our textbooks; none of it is reality.

Marie: The biggest worries in my community are what people decide to eat and looking fashionable. People only care about what Chinese restaurant to buy from or what weave to put on. Important issues like keeping the environment clean or teaching the young falls through the cracks.

Kei: There are members of my community who participate in charity and I’m sure they do so with good intentions but charity is not solidarity. Charity removes the top from the struggles of the bottom. Solidarity respects people. Solidarity emphasizes mutual aid instead of dictation. My community is privileged because we can allow global issues to slip through the cracks without facing the consequences. However, issues like poverty, climate change and armed conflict don’t cease to exist because they’re out of sight.  

Marie: Issues like poverty, climate change and armed conflict are a reality for my community.Without empathy, understanding and solidarity, these issues will remain unresolved.These issues don’t respect borders; they will spread from one corner of the planet to another. Nobody is safe until everyone is cared for.

Kei: Solidarity requires communities from all different walks of life to unite for a common struggle. We cannot do this alone. We want to work with you to explore the possible solutions.

Both: Our vision is your vision.