Your ‘Why’ and Your ‘Fire’

How you can get involved in activism.

I was never a child who loved sports. I had a music phase and an art phase for a while, but nothing ever stuck. Not until I found activism, that is.

When I tell people that I’m involved in social justice, they often ask the question: ‘Why do YOUcare?’ I could just state the facts about gun violence, or the statistics of climate change or articles about feminism, but stating facts about the implications of these issues doesn’t really answer the question of why do I care?

On February 14, 2018, seventeen students were brutally shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I was only in eighth grade at the time, at a small private school where a lot of my peers were hidden from the harsh realities of the world. In fact, when I come to think about it, I was hidden from many of our world’s injustices. 

As we began to hear that students were going to walk out of school during that following month of March, I knew that I wanted to do it too. March 14 (the day of the walkout) was a day that I will never forget. The shooting did not impact me the way it did others, and I am not going to even pretend to understand the trauma brought upon the survivors and loved ones of victims. But for me, this day became my ‘why.’

After this, I began researching an array of social justice issues, and I discovered my desire for working towards combating these problems. Nonetheless, something was different for me when it came to climate change and gun violence. As cheesy as it sounds, I felt a fire inside of me that kind of told me that I care about these issues a lot. The more research I did, the more this fire inside me grew, and that’s when I began to get really involved. I’m not going to tell you to go and devote hours into fighting for climate justice or for securing gun violence prevention, but I am going to tell you to find your fire. Find something that makes you feel a burning passion and a need to make a difference. 

If you’re wondering how to get involved with activism, that’s your answer. First, find your why. Your why needs to be specific to you, and it can be as big or small as you want it to be. The Parkland shooting was my epiphany; I realized that I would be unable to live with myself if I was a mere bystander. I wanted my grandkids to look back on me and think ‘wow, my grandma stood up for what she believed in and persisted. She really was amazing.’ This idea that my legacy would be as an upstander became my why. Step two is finding your fire. You may think that a certain area of social justice is what really intrigues you but dig a little deeper. Make sure that what you focus on is what lights you up inside.

Once you know what issues you want to take action on, it’s time to start acting upon your words. Starting is often the hardest part, but the first step always is. However, with just a little bit of research, you will find an organization that does what you want, or you can start your own. Recently, organizations have been taking teens on to be a part of their team because the youth voice is so impactful. We are not just the voices of tomorrow, we are the voices of today and when we use this voice to fight, there is nothing more powerful. Not only are many organizations developing teen positions, there are also many that are fully run by teens. I am on the outreach team of the Illinois Youth Climate Movement which has no one above age of eighteen on our team and it has truly been the best experience for me. A piece of advice that was given to me was to make sure that you take every opportunity that comes your way. If you want to apply for an internship or organization, even if you think that you won’t get in, apply. You only need one open door and that door will lead to another and so on. 

Sadly, fighting for social justice comes with consequences. These days, getting ‘political’ means that there is an entrenched opposing side, so you will need to develop thicker skin. There are going to be people that disagree with you, those who try to stop you and those who make you feel like you’re an incapable imbecile. It’s going to be hard at first to deal with people’s negativity and ignorance, but I promise it gets easier. You need to remember to stand your ground and that what you are doing is good. You will be the one on the right side of history. 

If you only have one takeaway from this, just remember the words ‘why’ and ‘fire.’ Knowing your why and having that fire will make any challenges that you may encounter easy to overcome. 

Chloe Young is a sophomore at the British International School of Chicago.

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