(2) Trailblazers

Brandeis’ African and African American Studies Program has taught me that small contributions can contribute to big change. The media highlights particular stories and icons, but the reality is that many people are fighting for change every day behind the scenes. Rosa Parks was not the first person to resist segregation on the bus, but her story was the one that spread like wildfire. The Stonewall uprising is credited with being the start of activism for the gay rights movement, but Black trans legacies had been doing the work before this historic moment. The main lesson my courses have taught me is that we must consider who is laboring behind the scenes to produce a better environment for all. We must appreciate anyone contributing to the cause and search beneath the surface to ensure we acknowledge all the working hands. 

The author and an OSS Camper during the SPARK Summer Program. SPARK is a STEAM and art fusion designed for students to engineer and problem solve.

With my prior knowledge from Brandeis courses and my experience as an Our Sisters’ School (OSS) student, I entered my fellowship with an unexplored perspective. As an alumna, I can recall the many components that allowed the school to function. As someone who now contributes their time to further OSS’ mission, I have gained a new sense of gratitude for the students, teachers, administration, volunteers, and donors. Change starts with the desire to improve the spaces around you; therefore, there is no contribution too small. Any action that you take is bound to produce transformation. 

My lessons from Brandeis have remained true during my WOW internship. OSS relies solely on grants and donations. Many contributions beyond monetary gifts allow the school to thrive. It is vital to recognize a donor who invests money the same way we recognize volunteers who offer their time. OSS works to assuage the academic and social gaps for inner-city kids. They provide rigorous teaching along with access to social experiences like full scholarships to sleep away camps, introductions to diverse art forms, and participation in community events.

While these significant opportunities make for notable change to the outside community, many resources are overlooked. OSS provides organic, sustainable food to their students’ families from their own gardens. While this gift makes a huge difference for OSS families, the numerous contributors are not always recognized. Community members collaborate to garden and harvest food for anyone who can benefit from it, and it takes a team to enable this process. 

I am appreciative of the whole OSS community. Their commitment provides a meaningful, educational environment to students who deserve to experience more than what their socio-economic status can provide. Teachers and administrators alike commit their lives to supporting their students and cultivating a safe, enriching environment. Instead of solely highlighting the changes, we can celebrate those who allow operation. As Howard Zinn reminds us, “There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at critical points…” This lesson is one we can all take in and remember in order to cultivate worthwhile change.