Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz
In junior high, I once jumped off a table Wonder Woman-style (but without bullet-proof bracelets) to defend another child from being teased. I don’t remember why I was perched on a table in art class, but I do remember the drama of leaping between this bully and his victim. Without hesitating, I knew I had the power to stop the harassment. And I did. At that moment, my nonprofit heart was born.
Although this defining incident taught me I could make a difference, I can remember always being concerned with whatever seemed unfair, inequitable, or just plain stupid: “Why do people litter? Why would people say ugly things because of the color of someone’s skin? Why are some people so rich and other people so poor? And why doesn’t my family ever go on vacation?”
“Life’s not fair,” my mother would say.
“Well, then,” I’d think, “somebody needs to get busy and make it fair!”
At some point, I decided I’d have to fix unfair stuff myself, since too many people didn’t seem to care as much as I did about world problems. At times, I’d get so mad about poverty, racism, sexism, or religious bigotry that I’d feel like punching someone. Since I was raised to be a “good girl,” punching people for prejudice didn’t follow. And as a teenager who volunteered for Special Olympics and adopted the beagle next door when his owner abandoned him, I suspected the part of me that shook my fist — or wagged my finger — at all things stupid and unfair made me no better than anyone else. Until graduate school, I didn’t have a name for “mimetic violence” (imitating what you claim to hate), but I did get the insanity (i.e. hypocrisy) of hitting people to stop the act of hitting. It just took me awhile to actually learn that lesson.