When I think of changing the world, I think of volunteering at a crowded soup kitchen, teaching at an inner-city school, being a nurse at an underfunded, over-run hospital. I think of Abraham Lincoln, Gloria Steinem and Mahatma Gandhi. Writing isn’t the first thing to come to mind. But, after attending the “OpEd Project’s Chicago Write to Change the World Seminar,” I left with a different idea of what it meant to change the world.
Throughout the day, seminar leaders Deborah Siegel and Michele Weldon challenged the group of 20 participants to understand their knowledge and expertise as having deep value to others. One of the questions was why would you contribute the public conversation in any form? Specifically, “Why write?”
By the end of the day many reached an answer. You enter the public conversation through opinion pieces, speeches, advocacy, testimony, community leadership– any or all of it– because you are responsible for what you know and for the knowledge you’ve earned. You do this for the slightest possibility that what you know can parlay some bit to changing the status quo and that your ideas offer a solution or a new way to think, something undiscovered to believe in. You speak up and write because there is too much at stake to stay silent.
I was always told, “one voice can make a difference,” But this Saturday I was reminded that that voice could be mine. I left the seminar knowing that the onus is on me, as it is on all of us. I left knowing that that I could be “sitting on the cure for something.”
Before joining the seminar, I was well aware of the gap in thought leadership between men and women and that the voices of women of color are far fewer. As a Pakistani born and American bred woman, I strongly believe that one of the strategies that can help de-stigmatize my color, culture and heritage is by pluralizing the number of Pakistani/South Asian voices contributing to public conversations. In today’s socio-political climate, I think this is something we are in dire need of. For this reason, I was glad to become a part of The OpEd Project as the Chicago Regional Management Intern. I hope to keep my OpEd experience going by cultivating my voice and adding to conversations. The “Write to Change the World” seminar will be only the start of my OpEd Project journey.