With the sound of gunshots in the distance, I knew my life’s mission. I had come a long way to be standing in that warm El Salvador night, but all of the seemingly random events of my life had prepared me for that moment. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I knew all 288 people in my town. We shared meals on Sundays and packed the bleachers to cheer for our sports teams against big-city opponents. The bank gathered holiday “wish lists” from anyone in need and residents fulfilled them. I was raised to help my neighbors because, in an instant, I could be in need.
Coming to college in Milwaukee, I expected to forge a new community; however the strongest connections were not made on campus, but in free meal programs. Marquette University’s pillar of service pushed me to recognize the dignity in every person. I came face-to-face with Milwaukee’s social outsiders – the impoverished and homeless communities. Countless meals together and conversations broke deep-rooted stereotypes. Yet, I struggled to understand how to do more than be a witness at a university whose mission is to “Be The Difference.”
The fall of 2014 changed everything. In August, the semester began with the heartbreaking news of the death of James Foley, a Marquette alum and journalist who was killed in Syria. During his memorial service at Marquette, I heard story after story of James Foley’s love for everyone he encountered. I felt drawn to his tireless pursuit to humanize world conflicts and tell the stories of war. James Foley used his skills as a reporter to build the kind of community I am drawn to in my own service work. The example of his life connected many of the loose ends I felt concerning my passion for writing, digital storytelling and social justice.
For as long as I can remember, asking questions has been a hobby. In high school, I began interviewing my grandparents to collect our family’s history. In college, I was a copy editor for the school newspaper before becoming a university reporting intern, where I covered faculty research. As a university reporter, I could write about anything from chemistry to Spanish, so I had to immerse myself in each topic. All of my experience was tested when I interviewed Congressman John Lewis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer.
Later that fall, I participated in Marquette’s delegation to El Salvador. Hundreds of people from around the world traveled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the six Jesuits and two laywomen killed during the civil war, in part because they exposed the truth about government oppression. After New York Times correspondent Gene Palumbo spoke about the importance of full-knowledge to encourage independent thinking, I recognized the need for truth-seeking journalism. That night, with gunshots ringing in the distance, I understood that my mission is to tell stories to end the cycles of oppression and violence.
I am going to be a human rights journalist. The lessons of El Salvador and the example of James Foley taught me the power of storytelling for social justice. Being a vehicle to tell impactful stories is the surest way I have found to connect those that are suffering and without a voice to those who are able to make change.
I am committed to use my writing to do more than entertain. I use my blog to tell stories of Milwaukee residents affected by homelessness in the Medium collection Our Home: Milwaukee. The next steps are honing my skills in writing, video, audio and photography to best cover human rights.
Interview with John Lewis
Our Home: Milwaukee