I was a harried junior professor when I happened across a New York Times profile of OpEd Project founder and CEO Katie Orenstein. I stashed the clipping in my campus office, and a year went by before I registered for the “Write to Change the World” seminar.
I should have done it sooner. Her workshop transformed me. Katie kicked off the session with a powerful message that each participant has something to say that the world needs to hear. The workshop exposed the defeatist self-talk that had been my fall back: that my expertise is too narrow, that others could do a better job of mining the topic, or that my desire to claim a public platform is an unseemly drive for self aggrandizement.
After the workshop, when I felt ready to step outside my ivory tower and participate in the public dialogue, Katie paired me with Mentor-Editor Joe Loya. With Joe’s help, I published four op-eds in about as many months on topics that were my stock in trade as a political scientist.
Did I have more to say beyond the rarified audience of academia? As a good Mentor-Editor Joe kept nudging me into new territory, sensing that my personal background provided fertile ground for exploration.
When I felt ready to publish some of my personal stories, The OpEd Project network sprang into action with terrific leads on suitable outlets beyond the op-ed pages. With Katie’s seminar under my belt, I knew how to craft a compelling pitch. My first two stories were published on The Hairpin, followed by an invitation to contribute to new online outlet called Medium launched by a co-founder of Twitter.
Katie and The OpEd Project’s West Coast Manager Chelsea Carmona contributed to the digital buzz about my publications with “likes” and “tweets.” I ended up with an invitation to tell my story live on-stage with personalities from NPR’s “Snap Judgement” and “The Moth.”
My greatest thrill: when total strangers reach out to say my stories connect with them emotionally. And when they do, I’m ready to spread The OpEd Project’s message: “I’ll bet you have your own story,” I tell them. “I encourage you to share it with the world.”
Mara Cohen Marks is a senior fellow at the Leavey Center at Loyola Marymount University, a board member of a community organization called One LA and an alumni ambassador for The OpEd Project.