PFV Leaders Walk the Talk

As anyone who’s been to an OpEd Project seminar, browsed the website, read a mentor-editor interview, seen an article about us, or had their ear talked off by a born-again opinionist knows, The OpEd Project reiterates a few points over and over again. Expertise isn’t only conferred by a degree. Your voice can change the conversation. Regardless of whether you receive positive or negative feedback, or are wrong or right in your opinion, your voice will enrich public debate.

Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the belief that these things are true in our own particular cases. Facing a blank screen with no voice but our own to fill it, all these affirmations can fly from our heads and leave us feeling doubtful of what we knew to be true when it came from the mouth of a mentor-editor or seminar leader. It can be hard to recapture the feeling that we may have had while listening to the transformative OpEd Project message.

Which is why we should make sure to keep our eyes peeled for OEP teachers and mentor-editors on the pages of the nation’s opinion forums. Examples inspire! The lesson of public engagement continues every time that an alum, teacher, or mentor-editor publishes an op-ed. Just this past week three fantastic models of brave engagement in public discourse appeared on the pages of the nation’s leading publications in the form of articles written by Public Voices Fellow Leaders Annie Murphy Paul (Yale), Courtney Martin (Princeton) and Michele Weldon (Stanford).

Annie Murphy Paul at TEDGlobal 2011, July 7-15, 2011, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Annie‘s piece “The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction,” ran in the Sunday Review of the New York Times. In it, Annie presents a slew of new neuroscience research that suggests that stories stimulate the brain and even change how we behave in life. Words that evoke memories of smell, movement, and texture enliven our experience of reading, the research says. “There is evidence” Annie writes, “that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.” In this way, she says, the findings affirm the experiences of readers who find novels illuminating or instructive. Reading literature may be a more concrete step towards self-betterment than we previously imagined. So interesting and so clearly and compellingly written! A true demonstration of how esoteric information can be presented in a way that makes it not only understandable, but enjoyable to lay people. Thank you Annie!

Courtney E. Martin speaks during Session 2: Life's Symphony, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010, at TEDWomen, Washington, DC.

Courtney‘s article “From Young Adult Book Fans to Wizards of Change,” appeared on the popular New York Times blog “Opinionator,” and spotlights groups like Hunger Is Not a Game and The Harry Potter Alliance, who have begun to mobilize the devoted fan bases of Young Adult (YA) fiction for political activism. YA fiction, says Courtney, is the world’s fastest growing literary genre, and the fan base can be positively rabid in their support of their favorite heroes and heroines. Courtney points out a few key strategies that make fan activist campaigns most successful: “Invest deeply in the literary themes, prize weirdness, honor the power of cohesive online communities and link to larger organizations that can implement the big ideas of plot-fueled real world advocacy.” Such a fascinating topic of such enormous importance as we look to the future of activism. Thank you Courtney!

Michele Weldon with her three sons circa 1996.

Michele‘s op-ed  “On Mothers Who Bury Their Sons,” was featured on Chicago Tribune Opinion. Michele uses the example of Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin who said “Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son,” to draw attention to the community that grieving creates among all mothers of sons.  Pulling together experiences on all scales– personal, national,  historical,  biblical — Michele speaks of the pain that all mothers face when one mother has the the profound sadness of burying her boy. “Because when a mother you know buries her son, young and promising, you mourn fully,” she wrote, “And when it happens to mothers you do not know, you mourn fully still.” In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, Michele’s poignant piece speaks to the common ground that mothers everywhere occupy in regard to their children’s lives and safety.

Thank you Annie, Courtney and Michele for you powerful voices! They remind of us what we know to be true: that speaking out matters.

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