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Jeremy Ashton, in front row on the right, with other 2015 Oxfam America CHANGE Leaders. Photo: Yoichi Suzuki/Oxfam America

Why you should take action even if you feel you’re not ready, and other big lessons I learned at Oxfam’s youth leadership training.

Jeremy Ashton is a 2015 Oxfam America CHANGE Leader and a student at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. He is studying Social Justice through SJU’s Ozanam Scholars Program, and will be completing a capstone project in the spring focusing on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness. A version of this post originally appeared on his blog.

I’m standing on a side street lost in Boston with some new friends, a full heart, and the widest vision I’ve ever had. The city feels foreign but familiar, like my favorite t-shirt in the wrong size, and everyone around me is laughing, happy and excited to be exactly where they are. I feel inspired, energized, and ready to try and do something great.

In what might be seen as an embarrassment of riches, I spent the last few weeks in a whirlwind of training, conferences, and workshops on leadership and social justice. Right after lobbying for global and domestic poverty issues on Capitol Hill with RESULTS, I turned around and was off to Massachusetts for a weeklong CHANGE Initiative training with Oxfam America.

The CHANGE Initiative gathers sophomore and junior students from various colleges across the nation for a weeklong training in Massachusetts. This included hands on, one-on-one and small group training by Oxfam staff and student facilitators (who were former CHANGE Leaders ready to help us, having been in our shoes).

I gathered pages of ideas simply from talking with my colleagues during five-minute breaks, or over meals, as well as during the more formal group sessions. By the end of the program, I left feeling more confident about my skills in digital engagement, fundraising, project management, lobbying, group leadership and grassroots advocacy work.

Photo: Yoichi Suzuki/Oxfam America
Photo: Yoichi Suzuki/Oxfam America

One of my biggest lessons from the training came during a section on using creative actions for advocacy. In a Spoken Word workshop, one of my fellow CHANGE Leaders, Emmaline, opened up about a past event. Everyone in our small group was appreciative, but I could see as we moved forward with the activity that she was still a bit shaken from sharing what she’d wrote, so I slipped her a short note to try and get her smiling again. As we all gathered everyone back together into a large group, to my surprise Emmaline asked me to come up with her as she shared her poem with everyone in the program.

It was at that moment that I realized the power a small act of kindness or a simple human-to-human interaction can have, how that can affect the choices people make. So many times issues of poverty and injustice seem too large to tackle, but in the end it helps to remember that problems of this world (and the solutions) are all made up of people.

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Photo: Yoichi Suzuki/Oxfam America

I also learned from my colleagues that the bravery required to make real changes means not waiting “until you feel ready” or “until I have enough experience” because the reality is you will never feel completely ready, but you can’t let that stop you. I feel that’s more of a broad life lesson, but it feels especially applicable when taking on issues of injustice or poverty because the problems are so big and feel impossible to solve.

One final session that will stick with me for a long time was the [one] around diversity, power, and privilege, which were incredibly helpful in opening up dialogues and discussions amongst and between everyone at CHANGE. I can’t wait to share them with my fellow Ozanam Scholars and find ways to utilize these new activities at some of our service sites in NYC.

As my fellow Change Leaders and I push forward to try and “Right the wrongs” of poverty and injustice throughout the next academic year, I am sure we will all face many obstacles. But the bravery I witnessed from everyone around me over the past few days has given me the courage and strength I will need to keep going, regardless of obstacles. I cannot wait to see what the upcoming academic year will bring, but I won’t be leaving the lessons I learned in Massachusetts behind.

 

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