I can’t remember the last time that one word in the news made me weep. Not just misty eyes, like I get every time I hear a good story on Storycorps. Not just a few tears, like I get from a good episode of 60 Minutes. This was full blown weeping. The kind that happens when your heart breaks and your soul hurts and your shoulders shake. The kind that happens when your world shifts slightly. The kind that happens when the world just doesn’t make sense.
You have heard the news about the Boston Marathon–how two bombs went off near the finish line, killing three and injuring 176. There are runners–accomplished runners–who lost their legs and may never run again.
This morning, we learned that one suspect in the bombing was killed–a twenty six-year-old Chechen. His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokar Tsarnaev, is currently on the run.
Through my work as the Deputy Director of Education Programs at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh,10,000 students and teachers in 300 schools engage in global education programs each year.
Nineteen-year-old Dzhokar is just a little older than many of those students.
Just yesterday, we held a videoconference with high school students across the country in which we discussed global health issues. We talked about issues such as HIV/AIDS, but also hidden disabilities. One student expressed how upset it made her that society sometimes dismisses those who have mental health disabilities and shared that she believes we should all show more empathy to one another.
On Tuesday, we had students around the world–from Pittsburgh to Pakistan to South Africa to Taiwan–discussing the same topic of global health and wondering how to support those in their families and communities with disabilities. A young woman in South Africa named Pinkie proclaimed that we need “to embrace queerness.” Other students nodded. We need to understand one another and love the parts of ourselves and others that are different.
These young people that I have the honor of working with give me hope. I am confident that they will make the world a better place and that through the simple act of dialogue, of listening to them, we can help them on that journey. I believe that through events such as the ones I have the privilege of designing and implementing, young people can understand how they can create a better world. And for every 19-year-old who has been taught to hate and trained to kill, there are literally millions of young people who we can be inspired by–whose hearts are filled with empathy.
It brings me joy to think that through events we’ve brought to schools, such as the International Student Summit on the Crisis in the Horn of Africa, a student at Cornell High School was inspired to raise money to build a well in Africa, and has engaged his small community to support it; that through a conversation with the CEO of the Africa Alive Foundation, students at North Allegheny and Quaker Valley High Schools are gathering thousands of books to send to their peers in Zimbabwe; that a discussion on human rights with students in Brazil has inspired young people to take action in Sao Luiz to demonstrate that public space can be safe by engaging in peaceful picnics throughout the city; that middle school students who participated in our Cultural Competence workshop understand that we are all different to somebody; that after a dialogue on challenges facing education, students at Wilkinsburg High School understand that budget cuts affected not just their school, but students in schools throughout the country, and learned that they are not alone.
When I first learned about the bombings in Boston, it gave me pause. I am running the Pittsburgh Marathon in just 15 days as part of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s WorldRunners team. We are running to support the programs we bring to underserved schools throughout the Pittsburgh region and around the world.
When I run on May 5th, I may shed a few tears, like I did last year. But unlike this morning, they will be tears of pride for what I do, and joy that even in a small way, I’m making a difference in the world. And this year, I’ll be thinking of all 19-year-olds, and wishing a grain of empathy fills their hearts and spills over so they too, can make a positive impact in the world.
Please join me in supporting global education programs, in spirit or through a tax-deductible monetary contribution.