I’m starting with this meme because some of you may be tired of the conversation about Ferguson. You may feel like you know enough and you’re ready to move on. You don’t quite see why everyone is upset and acting crazy over the verdict. Stop. Learn. React.

Let’s begin with the basics: the no indictment. An indictment is not a guilty verdict. It’s admission of probable cause of a crime and the charges to press. With this case the grand jury believed that there was no possibility of a crime, despite conflicting testimonies. To put it into perspective, .007% of federal cases didn’t receive an indictment from juries in 2010, which puts the Ferguson case in an extreme minority. Why was this specific verdict so important? Why was the entire world at a standstill at 8pm last night? Because this indictment was going to cement our belief of whether black lives matter in the eyes of the justice system. Michael Brown and the Ferguson community grew to represent something so much bigger than this case. Michael grew to represent all of the black lives lost in questionable circumstances, while Darren Wilson grew to represent any individual of power that seemed to unjustly oppress a person of color. It wasn’t fair to this community or either of their families, but this response was built up from years and years of distrust, unrest and the seemingly endless systematic disadvantages placed on black America.

It is not the concrete evidence we are questioning. We are questioning how this entire case was dealt with. The case began with obscurity from the police department rather than transparency. Michael’s body was left on the street for four hours after the incident. It took an entire week to release Darren Wilson’s name. Wilson did not file his own police report of the incident. During Michael’s medical examination no photos were taken because according to the examiner “my battery in my camera died”. Only 3 black people were on the jury while Ferguson has a 67% black population (the other 9 were white). Wilson had never been involved in a violent altercation before his confrontation with Michael, but he previously worked in a police unit that was disbanded for racial tensions.

Michael Brown was shot six times (3 of these shots were to the face, head, and chest). Darren Wilson states that he felt his life was threatened, which means he had the right to self defense, but were that many shots necessary? During his testimony Wilson describes Michael as “it” and “devil”. He describes feeling like a five year old in front of Michael. Nobody was asking for Darren Wilson to be harmed, but simply to be charged for a crime. If Michael was a suspected robber or was showing extreme hostility towards an officer, he deserved to state his case in court not to be buried by his parents. Like many cases involving black males, it’s as if we have to prove Michael Brown’s humanity before we can prove Darren Wilson’s crime. I refuse to give an opinion on Michael’s actions, because the reports differ and the fact is it doesn’t matter. He didn’t deserve to be killed.

During his paid leave of absence Wilson got married and was able to live his life relatively freely (although in obscurity). A fund was created in support of Darren Wilson that raised over $500,000 before being shut down. These are individuals openly supporting his actions. What kind of message does that send to the community? That Wilson should be rewarded for his actions? Believing his actions were justified is different from openly supporting his hand at killing an unarmed man, and the fact that so many people supported his actions shows how Ferguson is relevant at a national level. Even members of the KKK showed support for Darren Wilson.

For those who look at some of the violent responses and automatically assume black rage- look more closely. Most protests were peaceful and respected the wishes of Michael Brown’s family. Some turned violent out of passion because people are tired of not being heard and tired of being over looked. The rioting does not just represent the killing of an unarmed black man- the rioting represents years of the systematic dislocation of black America. The violence does not, however, represent the fight for equality. Also have you seen what ridiculous things people in this country riot over? We riot (as in vandalize and set things on fire) over sports team victories. Or remember the riots that seemed to have absolutely no cause at a pumpkin festival in October? Put in perspective, rioting for basic human rights seems pretty reasonable.

People are upset because they’ve lost faith in a system that is meant to protect all individuals. For those who believe this is an isolated incident- it’s not. There were plenty of cases before Michael and even after Michael’s death there have been black men and children killed by police officers in extremely questionable circumstances:


Yes if a police officer feels his life is at risk he has the right to defend himself. But is it necessary to fatally shoot the alleged criminal? If the questionable individual was white would the police officer have fired? Psychological studies show that in simulations, people are much more likely to pull the trigger on a black individual. That’s scientific proof that we are racist. There are plenty of examples of white shooters who were brought into custody, so why is it so hard for a black man who hasn’t committed a murder to be peacefully taken into custody?

In the minds of many, this is the current perception of the justice system:

tumblr_nf57nf6OQq1qhd9too1_1280tumblr_nao3c0lahq1srrof2o1_1280Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.28.58 AM

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 12.38.31 PM
If society sees our protectors as only protecting the few, it effects everyone. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Be open-minded when you consider cases like Ferguson. The fact that we need to have a hashtag stating Black Lives Matter should be indicative enough that something is wrong.

*If you are interested in learning more about this case here is a compilation of all the documents submitted to the Grand Jury: http://apps.stlpublicradio.org/ferguson-project/evidence.html


Reflections from Elliot Rodger’s Manifesto

Hopefully you’ve heard of the recent story of a man who killed six people and injured thirteen because of “the horror and misery the female gender” inflicted upon him. He has a few YouTube video and a 141-page manifesto explaining his thoughts if you want a glimpse into his mind. Personally, once I started reading the manifesto I couldn’t stop. I also couldn’t stop scrolling through the comments on his videos. Most of them labeled him as sick, made gay jokes, or pondered why he didn’t use a prostitute. These all made me uncomfortable, but the worst were the sprinkling of comments that felt sorry for him and the commenters who “understood” his pain.



These are just a couple of comments that made me shake with horror, but punching a wall or angrily responding to every comment isn’t going to get me very far. It is 2014 and and we love to preach equality for all, but there is something tremendously wrong in our culture when men feel entitled to a woman’s body. There is something wrong in our culture if a woman rejecting a male is seen as ‘stuck up’. There is something wrong in our culture if a feminist who believes in gender equality is seen as threatening.There is something wrong in our culture if society preaches rules for girls to stay safe and not attract the attention of men instead of teaching boys how to view the opposite sex as equal human beings. I can go on and on but for brevity I’ll pause.

Instead of glamorizing the killer and pondering over what ‘sickness’ inflicted him I ask that you take a moment to mourn the deaths of Katherine Cooper, Veronica Weiss, Christopher Michael-Martinez, Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Waihan Wang, and the countless other victims who have experienced such violence and will experience such violence in the future. Please don’t write this off as a one-time incidence. Please don’t say that people are overreacting to this. Not all men are bad, but there are enough bad ones for every woman to be able to think of one. I don’t have the grand solution to fix society but accepting that there is a problem is the first step. I know that this is not the world that I would want to raise my child in- male or female- so I won’t stop discussing or worrying about this until it is.



The Northwestern Bucketlist

You’ve got 4 years (on average). 

1) Join an organization for the fun of it- not for the resume builder

2) Paint The Rock


3) Get invited to Morty’s house

4) Get a picture with Willie


5) Paint for a sporting event (and stay the entire time)


6) Get a profile picture shot by Justin Barbin

7) Sneak onto the roof of Tech


8) Stargaze on North Beach (after sneaking in)

9) Pull an all-nighter and then go to the lakefill to watch the sunrise


10) Polar plunge in Lake Michigan

11) Paint a rock on the lakefill


12) Go to at least one philanthropy event sponsored by every single Greek organization 

13) Go to at least one theater production, a capella show, cultural event, and dance show per quarter


14) Relay for Life and Dance Marathon


15) Roadtrip with friends to visit another friend

To 12 Year Old Me


There are many things I wish I could tell you at this age, yet at the same time I’m pretty glad you don’t know these things yet. If you had, you wouldn’t be the same 20 year old you are now. Let’s be real- I like the 20 year old you become. Sounds strange right? Yes, you do learn to actually like yourself. 

Speaking of likes: please get over that lanky boy with the flipped out hair. I’m pretty sure he isn’t even in school anymore. Your first love will always be and should always be yourself. If you don’t approve of you then how do you expect anyone else to? No one will fix you or complete you- the most you deserve is for that person to inspire you to be the best version of yourself.

You’re full of wonderful potential and I know you know that. You have this burning fire within you that can go one of two ways: it can be anger or it can be constructive passion. There are times when the anger takes over and you retreat, but please know that the fire doesn’t have to be all consuming- it can also be liberating. Don’t let that fire hide you, instead let that warmth expand and push you forward. Use it to chase your beliefs. You spend too much time feeling guilty or unimportant or lacking and you couldn’t be more wrong. You mean a lot to so many people and you have the power to help and inspire other humans. That is the biggest asset any individual can have and as you learn to take advantage of that you will learn to not only respect the life you have, but also respect yourself. While keeping that in mind, never trivialize yourself or your problems. It’s okay to be selfish and take care of yourself first. The better you treat your self, the better confidence you’ll have when interacting with others.

In terms of inspiration: Appreciate all the people in your life, especially those who make you laugh. As E.E Cummings once said “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter” (yes it appears you will always be into corny stuff like that- own it). The people who don’t make you crack up and act a fool are people you might need to reevaluate your relationships with. The people who make you get lost in the moment are the same ones who will help you when you are doubtful.

Also: please be nicer to your parents. It seems easy to blame them for your flaws but you are a bigger person than that. You know that they have always tried their best and that they would do anything for you. Be sure to remind them that you’d do the same. You’ll quickly realize that putting a smile on another’s face is your favorite activity. 

On a more random note: Stop wasting time straightening your hair. Your smile is your best and most underutilized beauty trick. I know you’re probably tired of hearing it, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. If you want to continue wearing leggings under jean skirts then that’s fine (although stop purchasing all those colors because you’ll soon be over it). I know you’re never afraid to be bold and I totally encourage you to keep that up. That individuality is what makes you memorable and if those actions make you feel good then by all means do it. Just remember that there is a difference between doing what you want to do versus doing what you think you should want to do. 

Finally: Moments quickly turn into memories. This may seem heavy, but if your current position is where you would spend forever, would you be okay with that? Stop waiting for the future to get better and focus on making your present wonderful. I’m at the point where I would answer yes to that question because I’ve surrounded myself with people who build me up and I live my life in a manner that aligns with my values. You probably are unclear about what you value because it isn’t something you regularly think about, but you have a gut that tells you what you believe in and it honestly doesn’t change much. You have so much to look forward to but you have a lot to enjoy in the present moment as well.

There are so many other cheesy things I could say but I’ll leave it at that. 

So to sum it all up in the words of one your future favorite artists:

“Believe in your flyness, conquer your shyness”

-Kanye West (yes that is a real quote)



Falling in Love Everyday


Lately I’ve noticed how much my overall attitude and mood has improved. Not that I was a scrooge before but I regularly complained about things like my workload, the weather, or whatever else I could grasp to make myself feel pitiful and to further justify my sad behavior. The environment at Northwestern doesn’t help- where complaining about everything is the norm. This year however, I’ve (mostly) turned a new leaf. I try to avoid complaining because the five seconds of pity isn’t worth much and it certainly doesn’t do anything to improve my relationships. I let the negativity out when I need it, but generally I’ve adopted a happier attitude even though things still don’t necessarily go my way.

Nothing’s changed, but I find myself smiling a lot more and I feel much more confident about my relationships. I had to stop and reflect how that could be and I finally figured out the trick: I fall in love everyday. Sometimes it’s realizing why I cherish a particular friend, sometimes it’s related to intellectual stimulation, sometimes it’s getting comically excited about that Taco Bell, and sometimes it’s that wave of wonder I get while looking at the moon. Often times it’s an intriguing stranger who I just really want to know- with no expectation of reciprocation. To clarify, I don’t mean love in a sappy “frolic in rose petals” way but more in the “I’m genuinely grateful for your existence” sort of way.

I’ve learned to see more things by opening my heart and mind. It may seem premature and even concerning, but accepting everything around you and truly letting your mind wander does wonders. It even leads to some surprise experiences that may seem insignificant but can really brighten your mood. Looking back, I’m now living with less regret and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Beatles were right- All you need is love

*But it doesn’t have to be the love Hollywood claims we should have. Love and appreciation comes in any and all forms. And in my book it isn’t restrictive or static. It engages your every pore- even if it’s only for a flighting moment.


23 Signs You Live in Chicago


There are certain things many Chicagoans (even temporary posers like me) pick up on while living in the City.

1. You see the Chicago flag just as often or more often than the American Flag


2. It’s automatically assumed you’re a Bulls and Blackhawks fan, you throw the word ‘Da’ before your team, Michael Jordan without question was the best NBA star of all time, and you have a love/hate relationship with this man:


3. This conversation:

You: Where are you from?

Person: Chicago

You: What neighborhood?

Person: Uhhh, well actually I’m from Naperville


4. North vs. South: you have pledged your loyalty to one 


5. You either have helped steal an L map or condemn people who do (because you’re secretly jealous you don’t have one)

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 11.11.01 PM


6. Terms like “gentrification”, “gun violence”, or “the Democratic Machine” commonly come up in conversations


7. You never get tired of participating in ‘touristy activities’

For example: bean pictures, millenium park concerts, museum trips, beach days


8. … But you know not to eat on the Magnificant Mile because the best (and more affordable) foods are in other neighborhoods. 

And you can find any type of food imaginable.


9. You know the strong relationship between politics, corruption, influence, and power (and how that’s built your city).

Richard Daley

10. Southern Illinois is basically a foreign nation (and they probably believe vice-versa).


11. You roll your eyes when your parents express concerns about you taking the green line to work everyday.


12. You know not to have faith in the Weather Channel (and you have about 5 different coats on your chair because you never know which you’ll need)

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 11.50.01 PM

13. You can list off neighborhood stereotypes like the alphabet (and it’s really upsetting)


14. It’s pronounced Chi-caaaw-go (no matter what others try to tell you that is correct and normal)

15. Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s: one is clearly superior in your mind


16. You avoid driving at all costs Parking tickets? Dan Ryan traffic?:


17. Your relativity to the Sears Tower gives you a sense of direction


18. A summer getaway to Wisconsin Dells or Michigan is a must


19. On any given weekend you know you’ll have multiple festivals to choose from


20. Chicago= The City, Downtown= The Loop

21. There is always another bookstore, coffee shop, theater, bar, or exhibit you have to visit.


22. You secretly dream of owning a condo with lake views.


23. Without any bias or exaggeration you know your city is the best because despite all its flaws you know we’re built to deal with (and overcome) a lot of shit. It’s inspiring how often Chicagoans can surprise you with their amazing stories and big hearts. You can spend everyday discovering and learning something new. Best of all, whatever your background, you can find a home here. 


10 Closet Essentials: Female Edition

These are simple items that are definitely worth splurging on because of how versatile they are and how useful they can be in the long run.

1. A swimsuit 

I have flat out lied about why I can’t go to the beach or the pool simply because I didn’t have a swimsuit I liked. I used to be super price conscious when it came to finding swimsuits, too. I finally realized that it’s ok to splurge on a swimsuit as long as I feel confident and am comfortable strutting around in it. After all, my dignity and self-esteem is worth something.


Personal Favorite: Navy Block Bow Bandeau Bikini (Top Shop $68)

2. A black blazer and black skinny jeans

It is so important to have a properly fitting black blazer and skinny jeans. Anything that can be dressed down AND up is a great investment. Sadly, a blazer and jeans are two items women are so good at getting wrong. With the blazer, women often try to be too trendy: either going for the boyfriend fit (which is too casual for work and going out) or a too stiff and short blazer that can’t transition out of the conference room. Finding a healthy medium is difficult, but not impossible. The skinny jeans is slightly easier since there are so many options. Don’t be afraid to try on 20 different pairs before you find the perfect one in length, size, and shade. No matter your height or size, you can instantly look trendy in a nice fitting pair of skinnies or a blazer.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 11.37.46 PM

Personal Favorite: Lauren Conrad Ponte Blazer (from Kohls)

3. Jorts

These are the most comfortable pair of shorts you own. Like you’d wear them every single day of the year if that was acceptable (and let’s be honest, sometimes you do wear them 4 out of 7 days of the week in summer). They can be used for running errands or going to that outdoor concert series or bumming around the house. And another positive: it looks effortlessly fun!


My personal favorite: AE Dark Denim Midi Short (currently only $24.99!)

4. Sleek, Neutral Close-toed Heels

Personally, I think women should only wear close-toed or peep-toed heels in the workplace. I think there’s something extremely sexy and powerful about closed-toed shoes. It screams ‘I mean business’ and that can definitely be interpreted in many ways.


Personal Favorite: Steve Madden Remmedy ($59.99 at 6pm.com)

5. That one scarf

Now I’m not a huge fan of scarves so this is important to me. This is the scarf you love to throw over any outfit: on dresses or coats or sweatpants and it doesn’t matter what season it is. This scarf is cozy and instantly adds that ‘one accessary’ you felt your outfit was missing.

6. White v-neck t

With a cute skirt, under that leather jacket, or over that bright bikini top: a classic white v-neck is the perfect subtle compliment to another statement item.

7. Rainboots/Raincoat

Unless you live in a place where it doesn’t rain or you never walk outside for more than 5 minutes rainboots and a raincoat are essential. Yeah they aren’t used as often as other shoes and coats, but they can last forever and the right pieces never go out of style! A cute outfit for the rain can brighten your mood on an otherwise muggy day. Don’t let the weather be an excuse to dress down!


Personal Favorite: Burberry Rainboots ($225) and London Fog Harlow Trench Coat ($99.99)

8. Lace Dress

*This is assuming you already own that one lbt (we all know how important that is).

Lace dresses are perfect because it can be worn while grabbing drinks with friends on a Saturday night and at family brunch on Sunday morning. Preferably a tight fitting one in a neutral tone with sleeves. It’s feminine, simple, and classy.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 11.52.18 PM

Dress: Delia’s $34.50

9. Statement gold pieces of jewelry

People have been wearing gold since the conception of jewelry. Whereas other statement pieces come in and out of style, basic gold jewelry is here to stay. Whatever jewelry you prefer to wear (bangles, rings, necklaces, earrings) definitely invest in some gold tones.

Image ImageImage

Personal Favorites: Marc by Marc Jacobs Blade ($275), Kate Spade ‘Park Avenue Pearls’ Ring, and Kate Spade Gold Leaf Earrings

10. That signature makeup item

Whether it’s those glossy pink lips or lightly winged eye-liner, splurge on that one make-up item you love to wear and own it as part of your signature look. I’m all for experimenting with make-up but sometimes you find that one simple look you love for all situations.


I personally don’t have a signature make-up item but my one make-up splurge has been the Urban Decay Naked Palette ($50). I’ve had it for years and it is  all the eye shadows I could  need.

Things I Hope You Know by 20


The milestone that doesn’t seem like a milestone. Everything seems like it should change, yet it seems the same. I’ve only been 20 for a few months but there are certain traits I’ve realized are so valuable.

1) Your Love Life Status Doesn’t Matter

In your 20s you’ll find people at all points in life: virgins, married folk, that friend whose status you can never keep track of since she’s constantly appearing with another man. Honestly there’s no such thing as a socially acceptable lifestyle. If you’re single people may assume you’re lonely. If you’re in a committed relationship people think you’re not exploring your options. If you’re sleeping around you know the drill: ‘slut’, ‘whore’, ‘slore’, and ‘messed up’ are jokingly thrown at you in conversation. It’s only important for you to embrace your status and be ok with it. At the end of the day another person’s opinion of your sex life has no relevance to you.

2) Always Answer Your Phone

…If you are able to.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member or an unknown number- just get it over with. I used to be extremely lazy with answering my phone but do you know what I was worse at? Calling people back. It could be your mom simply missing you or that dream internship you applied to on a whim and forgot about or your credit card company warning you that your card appears stolen. It could be important or it could not be, but you owe it to yourself to find out and not put it off.

3) Talk to People/Introduce Yourself to Everyone

That person next to you on the train is reading your favorite novel. He pauses, looks up, and catches your eye. You smile and quickly mention your adoration for said novel. That could be the end of the exchange or you may continue talking about the book- eventually introducing yourselves, and having a far more entertaining train ride. It may be revealed that this guy has a buddy at a firm that you’re interested in working for or you may never see each other again. Yes it’s exaggerated but the point is you probably won’t lose anything in this situation- yet you never know what’s to gain. Honestly I think the world would be a lot better off if people talked to each other more. Even if you share a single sentence you might break that awkward barrier of silence and encourage others to start a conversation. Connecting with others is a good feeling. I’m sure you can’t deny that.

This especially goes for people who serve you. People go out of their way to help friendly faces. Making your Starbucks order before the guy in front of you, letting you have that extra pool towel without a charge, or giving you insider information about where that DJ will be exiting the venue. All people have something to offer, plus it’s not always material things.

4) Know Your Online Presence

At this point in life you’ve probably had Facebook for years. You probably also have some forgotten old Myspace/Xanga/Bebo account. You may also have a Twitter, Instagram, Vine, or Pinterest. Do you realize how much output and personal information you have shared based on social networking sites alone? I heard a story where in an interview the professor pulled up a girl’s tweets and read them back at her. Would you feel comfortable if that happened to you? If the answer is no then you need to clean up your online presence. It’s not the ‘likes’ that matter anymore. You should know exactly what information about you can be found online-even with some hard digging because employers won’t hesitate to do so.

This doesn’t mean hide your online presence. You can show off your tech savvy by having a mostly appropriate, yet still interesting social media account. Some employers directly ask for access to your accounts because they want people with those skills. Turn your online presence into a resume padder not a job killer.

5) Don’t Say Um or Like

One thing I’ve noticed is that when a person uses ‘um’ or ‘like’ I automatically pay less attention to what they’re saying and find them to be less credible. I understand being nervous and I definitely am guilty of this too but try to be extremely aware when you’re speaking. It’s better to pause for a second than say ‘um’. Pausing makes me think you’re collecting your thoughts, ‘um’ makes me think you don’t know what you’re saying. That difference matters.

6) Learn to Leave a Conversation/Learn to Enter a Conversation 

As you stand bored by the Hors d’oeuvres you overhear people talking about the ins and outs of the Affordable Healthcare Act- something you’ve well researched for work. How do you enter said conversation to alleviate your boredom (granted it’s not much of a step up, but it’s better than staring at cheese). Oh look at that- the individual stated an incorrect fact! “Not to intrude, but I recently read an article that stated blah blah blah”. Either he’ll disagree or agree and conversation will continue with you in it. Win.

Ten minutes later and said individual is still blabbing about the same topic and you’re starting to miss the silence of cheese. How to escape? “Well it was great talking to you but I have to make a quick phone call. Hopefully I will see you later in the evening!” That was easy. Why torture yourself any longer? White lies are totally acceptable in my book if it doesn’t directly or indirectly harm anything or anyone.

7) Keep Track of Your Expenses

I’m sure most people sort of do this, but do you actually write down every single dime you spend? If you never have I strongly encourage you to do it for a month- I promise it’ll be an enlightening experience. Divide those expenses into categories such as food, bills, transportation, entertainment, etc. If anyone ever asks what your monthly budget it is you should be able to think of an accurate number. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you switch jobs, move cities, or face a loss in finances I guarantee your life will be much easier if you know how much you need to get by and what you can cut back on.

8) It’s OK to Enjoy Childhood Things

You don’t necessarily grow out of all things, but can learn to appreciate it in a different light. Whether it’s dino nuggets, a carousel ride, or a disney movie- never be ashamed of indulging in ‘childhood pleasures’. Honestly it’s refreshing for the soul and sometimes reliving the past can reveal a lot about yourself (memories, personality traits, etc.).

9) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone/Do Something New

You’ve heard it a million times but it is so so important. Volunteer at a place that your parents would tell you to avoid, go to that free folk concert, train for a 10K. It doen’t have to be crazy- do whatever attracts your attention. If you can, do what terrifies you. Regret is one of the most consuming, negative feelings and the ‘what if’ haunts the back of your mind long after the event has passed. Something new can change your life for better or for worse but it’ll always provide the opportunity for growth.

The more you explore the world the easier it will be to empathize with others. In turn you’ll learn to appreciate where you come from and what you want your place in the world to be.

10) You’re 20 and You Don’t Know Much 

That’s ok as long as you are open-minded and constantly absorbing the world around you. Instead of constantly listening to the top 40s radio station try switching to NPR for a bit. You may be surprised when you fall in love with This American Life.

From what I’ve heard and read the 20s are the most dramatic and most boring time of our lives. But in the end it is completely in our hands how we live it.

What’s some things you’ve learned recently that changed your perspective?

FYI this is definitely a continuing list.

Want perspective? Talk to a former prostitute.


Sounds far-fetched and odd doesn’t it? Well that’s exactly the opportunity I had today when members of the Coalition for the Homeless came to speak to our Engage Chicago class. I went in thinking that it was too early for me to be assaulted with facts about poverty and homelessness in Chicago, but my privileged little ass was up for a big wake-up call. Don’t get me wrong- I strongly believe that we’re not doing enough to fight homelessness, but 9am is not when I want to discuss it. Lucky for me it turned out to be such an amazing morning!

Two of the members on the panel were kind enough to share their stories and honestly I don’t think I’ve ever been so raptured, awed, or inspired in a class. One of the women spoke about her childhood- being an only child with an alcoholic mother. Early on she was taught that love included abuse. By fourteen she was pregnant and before twenty she was married with two children. Her husband turned out to be a pimp and introduced her to the world of prostitution. She became miserable and turned to drugs to escape. She remained a drug-addicted prostitute for over thirty years.  The other woman had a similar yet different story: she turned to prostitution almost by accident. She noticed that men would provide simply for her if she was ‘with’ them. Initially she didn’t even realize that she was homeless and she later turned to drugs as well.

Both eventually ended up in jail and later entered a program called WINGS: Women in Need Growing Stronger. Through that they received counseling, therapy, and other resources to recover. However, one woman mentioned that due to her record it was difficult to find a job. Both women turned to activism with the Coalition for the Homeless and with support from others help found SAGE: Surviver Advocacy Group Empowerment. SAGE is the only group of its kind that does policy advocacy and direct outreach for women in prostitution. The two women talked about how they never had any self-esteem and the dark pit their life seemed to be until they got help. Now they speak to politicians of all levels and advocate for the rights of those without a voice.

These two women not only completely put their life back on a healthy track (drug free included!) but also decided they need to directly find ways to help other women. When they saw that the current programs weren’t enough, they started their own organization.The panel made the interesting point that it’s not the pimps or the men actually using prostitutes in jail- it’s the women. Victims of this vicious lifestyle are the ones persecuted. Additionally, both women also mentioned that jail taught them nothing- other than how to actually commit a crime if they wished. Most of the programs that provided real help for them were NGOs.

Basically the morale is that no matter your situation, with enough motivation you can truly help yourself and help others. A woman with only an 8th grade education spoke at me today and completely opened my eyes to the reality that some people face. She reminded me why working for social justice and community organizing is so important.

If you can’t see a solution pave the way for one.