Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - March/April 2016 - (Page 26)
by Lauren Pham
WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, I THOUGHT A LEADER WAS SOMEONE EXTRAORDINARILY SMART, DEMANDING,
CONFRONTATIONAL, AND EVEN BOSSY. I THOUGHT OF DEANS AND PRESIDENTS AND CEOS. A LEADER WAS SOMEONE
WITH A VISION AND THE AGGRESSIVE PERSONALITY TO MAKE IT REAL. MAYBE THAT'S WHY I COULDN'T SEE MYSELF
AS A LEADER. I WAS SMART ENOUGH, BUT THE REST OF THE DEFINITION JUST DIDN'T FIT ME, DESPITE MY HUNGER
TO MAKE POSITIVE CHANGES IN THE WORLD.
y the middle of my sophomore year of high school, I was feeling frustrated by the failure of my efforts to "change the world"
in the small ways I thought I could at school. For example, I had
been active in a program initiated by my school district to make
our schools more inclusive by organizing activities and discussions
on diversity. I helped facilitate activities and workshops, but some
students responded to them mockingly, and some faculty suggested
that drawing attention to race, class, family type, and other identity
factors made people uncomfortable. I wanted to help improve our
school environment, but I didn't know how to inspire others. I questioned my ability to effect change.
Toward the end of the school year, I learned about the Brown
Leadership Institute (BLI), a two-week program that offers courses
focusing on different aspects and applications of leadership. I was
drawn to the course Leadership and Social Justice, which I thought
would allow me to engage in meaningful conversations about justice
and social responsibility with my peers. Of course, I expected them
to be stubborn and demanding (they were aspiring leaders, after all),
but we'd at least have a common interest.
Joining the Justice League
Almost as soon as I met my 23 classmates in the program, my
understanding of what a leader is began to change. We were all there
because we wanted to learn how to address issues we were passionate about, including sexism, racism, ableism, and classism. We had
all seen injustice and oppression; we had seen inequality and inequity. Some of us had directly experienced some or all of these things.
Determined to defend every powerless, unheard friend, teammate,
and neighbor, we called ourselves the Justice League.
Each night we had readings to complete for the next day's class.
In the classroom, activities ranged from watching documentaries
and participating in community-organizing simulations to learning
how to create effective social-change campaigns by engaging the
media. In addition, we participated in two mandatory workshops a
week, usually featuring guest speakers who were involved in community organizing. There were also optional workshops related to
other courses offered at BLI, such as Women in Leadership, Public
Policy, and Global Health.
Throughout the course, we each worked on an action plan-a
capstone component of BLI-detailing a social change campaign we
would implement in our home communities. Mine focused on juvenile justice reform and raising awareness about poor education and
increased criminal activity in schools in impoverished communities.
Leading by Collaborating
To help us think about ways to employ leadership skills to solve the
big problems targeted by our action plans, we focused as a group on
the global issue of poverty. As we discussed the differences between
charity and social change as approaches to eliminating poverty, we
also found ourselves defining the characteristics of effective and
socially responsible leadership.
Some leaders, for example, act as advocates, speaking for or in
support of others, especially those "who cannot speak for themselves." In developing and imposing solutions on the people they
want to help, though, these leaders may end up with solutions that
have to be continually administered for other people. They may
miss the important opportunity to work with the people they want
to help. After all, who knows the needs and abilities within a community better than the community members themselves?
I thought back to an experience I had the previous summer with
the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC. I was
participating in CivicWeek, a component of Northwestern UniversiNo Mar/Apr 2016
THE LEADER WITHIN
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - March/April 2016
In My Own Words Senator Barbara Mikulski
Run, Ride, Sell! Funding causes that matter
Start Something! Initiatives by kids, for kids
Changing Lives, One School at a Time Making a difference for students in need
Empowered to Make a Difference The Civic Leadership Institute at CTY and CTD
Sharing the Gifts of Music The Forget-Me-Not Family Ensemble
Service, Leadership, Entrepreneurship . . . Launch! Learning the art of the startup at MIT Launch
Sharing the Rewards Building a shadowing program for my peers
Discovering the Leader Within Exploring leadership and social justice at Brown
Gap Year A time to refresh, serve, and grow
Research at the Edge of the World An Antarctic photo essay
Selected Opportunities and Resources
Off the Shelf Review of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See
Exploring Career Options Interview with entrepreneur Henry Albrecht, CEO, Limeade
One Step Ahead My college startup
Planning Ahead for College Skills and knowledge for college success
Students Review: Lehigh University
Mark Your Calendar
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - March/April 2016