Personal Statement by Olivia Kennedy
I have grown up in a bizarre time in our country and world’s journey to social justice. On one hand, we seem to be making impactful strides toward a more just and equal world. Homosexuals are legally able to marry in the United States, African-Americans and other historically marginalized populations have their rights protected under constitutional amendments, and diversity in education and the workplace is greatly increasing. On the other, indigenous people are constantly at risk for a loss of land rights, immigrants to the United States are marginalized and approached with violence from the police, a corrupt criminal justice system is targeting black people while corporations benefit immensely from the prison-industrial complex, and the list goes on. As a white girl from a modest city in Iowa, I must recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to be born into a situation of privilege. However, as someone who pays attention to the media, as well as domestic and international conflicts, I can’t help but be outraged.
My school has the largest Amnesty International chapter in the state of Iowa. As a freshman, I joined, not knowing what to expect, but I soon fell in love with the group’s mission. Every other Wednesday, around 50 students gather to discuss human rights abuses and ways that we can help end them. We have participated in multiple different campaigns and events, some sanctioned by our group, others being global efforts from the international organization. Every December, on World Human Rights Day, more than half of our school comes together for Write for Rights. We write countless letters to foreign dignitaries urging them to correct extreme human rights abuses in their respective countries. After the event is over, there is almost always at least one resolution of a former human rights abuse as a result of the letter writing campaign; a victory for human rights everywhere. I have been so inspired by the work of the Amnesty organization as a whole, and as a senior, I am the president of our group. This year alone, we have already written letters to our federal representatives asking for the support of universal background checks for all gun purchases. We have shown a documentary on human rights defenders that packed the school’s auditorium. We are also gearing up for our biggest Write for Rights event ever where students from all over the community will gather in our cafeteria to reach our lofty goal of 2,000 letters.
I have found my true passion while working with Amnesty, and the organization has made me a much better citizen of the world. I have turned into a total news junkie, and I stay up to date on many global affairs. It’s easy, as a teenager and a millennial, to get wrapped up in things only revolving around your little world, but I have been so inspired by others and Amnesty’s mission of global equality and justice to develop a much wider perspective on the world and what happens in it every single day.
February 14th, 2018 was supposed to be a light-hearted Valentine’s day. I had received funny cards from my friends and I’d been munching on holiday candy for most of the day. As I was leaving school, my phone buzzed with the news, alerting me, and the rest of the world, about the shooting in Parkland, Florida in a high school very similar to the one I had just left. My heart sank into my shoes as the death toll rose throughout the day. I saw images of students running out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, accompanied by SWAT teams, their hands above their heads as tears streamed down their faces. The light at the end of the tunnel came when I saw Emma Gonzalez, a student from Parkland, speaking so passionately about the shooting and why lawmakers need to fight for gun regulation instead of taking money from groups that want to see guns in the hands of irresponsible citizens. This sparked a national movement- March for Our Lives- of walkouts, protests, and other events.
Some of the students from Florida came to my town, and I had the opportunity to meet with and talk to some of them who had created the movement. A few friends and I were so inspired by their message that we started our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit as a direct offshoot of the national organization- March for Our Lives Iowa. We have united students from all over the state under a common mission- to enable students to feel safe in their schools. We have organized events with the Parkland students, held benefit concerts, and met with federal and state politicians to discuss our mission and policy goals. We have even introduced legislation that will be presented and debated upon in the Iowa General Assembly in early 2019.
Social justice is what drives me. Change is my passion; I will strive to create it for the rest of my life. Next year, I will be studying political science with human rights and social justice certificates on a pre-constitutional law track. I am very excited to learn more about the political process and how others think about certain policies. I’m ready to dive deeper into the realm of social justice and human rights, so I can develop a greater understanding of the world we live in. I am concerned about many different diplomatic and violent conflicts going on in the world, but my hope for the future and drive for change is much greater than my fear.