Tag Archive: social activism


Saturday October 23rd is Make a Difference Day. Although I think its great to take a day to purposefully reflect on ways we can make a POSITIVE difference in the world, I think a much better approach is to make it a lifestyle change. Making a difference should be a way of life, not just a one day affair. One day of good deeds is not enough to undo a year’s worth of injustice, ignorance, and apathy. We need to strive to make a difference 24/7, 365 (plus one extra day of superhero antics every leap year).

So yes, please stop on Saturday and think of ways to make a difference and then ACT on them, but don’t stop there. Think of ways to make it a part of your life. Small acts repeated over time have a snowball effect, eventually resulting in major and lasting change. So instead of only celebrating Make a Difference Day, why don’t you take the pledge to be a hero and make a difference for life!

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We’ve already talked about how heroes come in many shapes and sizes, but superheroes also become heroes for different reasons. The reasons are as varied as the type of heroes they become, but for the most part they can be broken down into two groups: proactive and reactive.

Proactive Heroes

Proactive heroes have a strong sense of justice and humanity. They see something wrong with the world and go out and look for ways to fix it. They have no other motivation than the fact that something in their heart is compelling them forward. It’s just something they have to do.

Reactive Heroes

The reactive hero, as the name suggests, becomes a hero in reaction to something. Usually it’s because of an injustice they experienced or one that was done to someone they care about. They react in a positive manner, doing everything they can to make sure that no one else has to endure the hardship they endured. It’s not that they were uncaring before, it’s just that now it is a personal mission and a way to take charge of the hurt inflicted on them.

Both heroes are noble and valuable even if they adopted their missions for very different reasons. So long as they are out their advocating for a better world it doesn’t matter why they became a hero. What does matter is that the world is better because of them.

As a superhero, you’re always looking for ways to give back to your community. There are more than enough organizations and causes for the superhero to choose from. Too many, in fact.  With so many to choose from, how do you decide which opportunity is best for you? Here are a few tips to help you decide:

  1. Choose the cause you’re most passionate about. Every cause is a worthwhile cause. You may feel the pull to choose one or more because you recognize the need for change. However, in order to be a truly valuable volunteer, you need to be able to serve as a “raving fan” for your cause day in and day out. So remember, it’s okay to choose your passion even when volunteering.
  2. Be realistic about how much time you can commit. Don’t be afraid to ask how much time the organization expects each volunteer to commit. In order for it to be fair to the organization and manageable for you, stick to opportunities that fit into your current schedule. Whatever you do, don’t over-commit. Volunteering should be an uplifting experience, not a stressful one.
  3. Talk to other volunteers. Find out what other volunteers think about their experience. Ask them what kind of activities they do? What are the other volunteers and administrators like? What do they like most/least about volunteering? It’s one of the best ways to find out what your experience will be like.
  4. Compare the volunteer duties with your skill set. Look for opportunities that will also let you shine. If you’re an artist, look for ways where you can help beautify dilapidated buildings. If you’re a carpenter, then maybe something like Habitat for Humanity will work well for you. If you’re a writer, see if you can help with their newsletters or grant writing. Of course, don’t overlook the fact that volunteer opportunities are a great way to learn new skills, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself either.
  5. Try it out. Talk to the volunteer coordinator and see if its possible for you to try help with an event or some activities before you commit to volunteering on a regular basis.

If you’re not sure where to look for volunteer opportunities, check out Volunteer Match or United We Serve for opportunities in your area.

Above all, don’t be afraid to explore multiple opportunities. Look at the many ways you can participate within each organization and choose the one that best fits your interests, personality, and time availability. Above all, actually get out there and do it. It doesn’t take much time to make a huge difference in someone’s life.

As I’ve said before, everyone can be a hero. One way to achieve that is by volunteering. After being introduced to an amazing cause, Room to Read, I decided to sit down with one of the Austin Chapter organizers, Sherrie Nguyen to learn more about Room to Read, how we can help this amazing cause, and her experience as a volunteer.

Diaz: How did Room to Read get started?

Nguyen: Room to Read began with a simple phrase: Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books. John Wood, a former executive at Microsoft, was trekking the Himalayas contemplating his current life when he was introduced to a school in Kathmandu with a library that housed no books. When he asked how he could help and heard the headmaster’s response, John was moved to action and has never looked back. He began an email campaign that was heard around the world and returned a year later transporting thousands of books on donkeys and was welcomed with the smiling faces of eager children. Room to Read was born in 2000 and in 10 short years has impacted nearly 5 million children in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Diaz: What is the mission of Room to Read?

Nguyen: Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

Diaz: What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced (can be for just the chapter or as a whole)?

Nguyen: The Austin chapter was founded in 2008 by volunteers who heard John’s story and answered his call for action. We have grown tremendously over the past year in terms of brand recognition and awareness in the Austin community. However, our biggest challenge is this market is saturated with local and global non-profits, and while the community is ranked high in the nation for volunteering and donating time, Austin is also ranked low among other states for financial giving. Since the Room to Read chapter networks drive 1/3 of the operating budget each year for Room to Read through zero-cost events, this poses a challenge for fundraising in Austin.

Diaz: What has been the greatest success (same as above)?

Nguyen: At the same time, we receive a ton of support from the Austin community in helping to promote our cause through in-kind donations. Momo’s donated their venue for our Room to Rock music showcase, Clay Pit and Thanh Nhi host country-themed dinners for us annually, and Lavaca Street Bar and Dolce Vita are participants in our Beers for Books programs ($1 for every beer purchased, buys 1 book for a child in need).

Diaz: What made you get involved with the program?

Nguyen: I got involved with Room to Read after reading John’s book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. Because of John’s experience, Room to Read operates like a business, running lean on overhead and constantly innovating to scale quickly. In fact, after the first few years of operation, Room to Read was building schools and libraries faster than Starbucks were appearing on our street corners. I support Room to Read because I believe in the mission, and I see the impact of our work.

Diaz: What has your personal experience with the organization been thus far?

Nguyen: My times with Room to Read over the past few years can be described in so many words – fun, inspiring, rewarding, and valuable. I’ve met John and Erin, Room to Read’s CEO, several times and am extremely confident in their vision and leadership. I stepped in to the role of Chapter Leader for Austin last year because like other volunteers, I have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and am a firm believe that we are creating disruptive change in the world. I am driven by the leaders of our 40+ chapters all over the world each year when we reunite in San Francisco for our Chapter Leader Conference, and I am traveling to India this December to see our work first-hand. It’s the wonderful people that make Room to Read so great and keep me working this night job with a smile on my face.

Diaz: How can others help?

Nguyen: A little bit of money goes a long way in the developing world. You can choose to sponsor a project, such as building a school/library, sponsoring a girls’ scholarship, or publishing a local language book through donations at http://www.roomtoread.org/donate. Each community matches monetary donations in the form of their own money, sweat equity, or building materials/land. This makes our projects sustainable by the communities and government. The Austin chapter is also always looking for volunteers to either join our core team or to work our events. You can find more information and contact us here: http://www.roomtoread.org/austin.

Diaz: What would you tell someone who is on the fence about becoming a volunteer?

Nguyen: It’s up to you how much time and effort you want to contribute. All of our chapter leaders work full time jobs and have busy lives outside Room to Read, but we come together with the common belief that we are creating world change. We are happy to receive as little or as much time as you are able to give and always welcome you with smiling faces! Attend one of our upcoming happy hours (last Thursday of every month) and get to know our team. We’d be so thrilled to meet you, and we always promise fun!

Superheroes are social activists, always involved in the issues, speaking for the little guy. When it comes to public

Photo via NY Magazine

debate, complicated issues are boiled down to misconceived stereotypes and ideologies that gloss over or completely ignore the real circumstances of the underlying issues. The fact of the matter is:

Real People Get Hurt When We Don’t Honestly Look At The Issues.

There are human beings, with varying circumstances, needs, wants, abilities, limitations, and other factors all affecting what they can and can’t do. We can’t employ fallacies to appease our prejudices, nor can we assume that it’s all black or white, false or negative, either or. That’s when we come up with solutions to the symptoms of a problem, and not the cause itself. Then the problem perpetuates.

Remember–behind every debate there are real people suffering.

Be a hero. Speak for them. Make the media and politicians humanize the issues.

“Stop trying to be so ordinary

Be strong and be brave

And begin your story.”

— “So Ordinary” by Ryan Star

Superheroes are much more than characters on the Technicolor pages of a graphic novel. There are real superheroes – everyday angels who spread light in large and small ways. They stand up for others in need. They help us believe again when we’ve lost hope. In the end, they change the world.

And you want to know a secret? They are no different from you or I. Really! You have that same essence of bravery, love, empathy, and empowerment flowing through your veins.

True…it’s not always easy with the pressures of family, friends, and society to embrace our inner awesomeness. Most of us make the mistake of trying to live our lives from the outside in. We focus on appearances, fitting in, and trying to make others happy. We focus so hard on avoiding losing love that we shut down our inner light. It’s the exact opposite of what we must do to live a full life and connect with our inner superhero.

To live the life we are truly destined for, we must start from within. Your experiences, your inner wisdom, your gifts are there for a reason. You are not on this Earth only for yourself. You’re here to better the world and be of service to others. Short changing yourself robs the world of something very precious.

But we can’t manage to do great things until we see ourselves as great. Unless we believe in our potential, we won’t fly. We’ll sit on the edge of the ledge, gazing out over a beautiful valley, feeling the sun’s warmth and tempting kiss of the breeze. We’ll ache for the experience that is calling us, all the while missing out on it.

We find the faith to leap by connecting to the divinity within us. So how do we begin to do that?

Meditate

Meditation calms your whole being. It centers you firmly in the present moment. This practice of relaxing the body and quieting the mind allows you to connect to the energies of love, peace, and creativity.

Fears don’t exist in the present moment. They are worries based on potential futures. Fears lose their power when you are able to stay hooked into the blessings held in the Now.

Take responsibility

You’re the co-creator of your life. You choose your perspective on situations. You decide to take a chance or to stay in the status quo.

To change your life, change yourself. Begin with your thoughts. Watch their positivity or negativity. Be aware of self-judgment and negative self-talk. When you catch those kinds of thoughts, replace them with a positive thought that connects you with the kind of life you wish to manifest.

And always realize you can choose to see the blessing or pain in any situation. You can act to change things if you are not experiencing life in the way you desire. You are not the victim in your life…you’re the hero or heroine of it.

Laugh

Joy is one of the highest vibrations in life. When we experience it, our heart opens. Our body releases stress and relaxes. We become caught up in the love of life; and that is a powerful place to be.

Stepping out of your comfort zone becomes easier if you can just laugh at yourself and enjoy the experience – even when things don’t go “perfectly.” It eases the pressure. It allows for a loving acceptance of imperfections as you grow. So let yourself have fun!

See the humanity in others

If you’re not feeling especially happy with yourself and your life, it can be easy to envy others. We see things in their life like a job, good mate, nice home, and fall into a sense of lack about our own lives.

But no one is perfect and neither is their life. They all have challenges, fears, weaknesses, strengths, joys, and sorrows. Imagine being fully in their life with all the personal history, challenges, and responsibilities. Their life won’t seem so easy or perfect when you allow yourself to see the bigger picture.

And you know what is fabulous about that? It means that, like the people you admire, you can be powerful and make a difference. It doesn’t take perfection. It takes a willingness to act from the heart and stand in your truth.

So enough with the playing small. Stop trying to be so ordinary. You’re much more than that. Be unapologetically alive today. Be brave. Try again and again. Love fiercely. Allow the amazing light within you to radiate.

You just might surprise yourself and discover there is a superhero lurking within.

Thanks Lark N. for your wonderful guest post. I hope everyone is just as inspired as I am by your words!

It only takes one person to make a difference.

Too often we wait around for someone else to be the first. We let injustice and hatred continue because we don’t want to be the one to stick out our neck and absorb the first blow. We’re afraid of what might happen, that no one will be there to support us, that we may endure negative repercussions in return. You know what else might happen?

You might succeed.

You might stop that ranting asshole who never knew how much he tormented others. You may inspire a woman to leave an abusive relationship. You just may save a life. Doesn’t that make it worth it?

Here’s my favorite it takes only one story. If you ever think you can’t stand up and make a difference, just stop and think about this guy. I have for over twenty years. If one man can stop a tank, imagine what you could do.

If you’re socially conscious, like me, you’ve probably got a few badges on your facebook and follow updates from sources like OxFam and Unicef, but that’s probably about it. They are an accessory next to your farmville or mafia war button and not a forum for engaging with other socially conscious individuals. Many non-profits have figured out the power of social media, but social media designers themselves had focused mainly on creating platforms that cater to businesses and individuals–until now.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a new social media platform called Change.org. It’s a community of activists and concerned citizens coming together to support causes, share information on how to get involved, and  to interact with like-minded individuals. People can support local and global causes ranging from poverty to climate change and women’s rights. Highlighted sections include Changemakers, Top Stories, Take Action, and Victories.Actions can be as small as writing a letter to giving aid, making it easy for anyone to get involved.

It’s free to sign up. I just got my account and have been playing around with it. You can also incorporate it into your website or blog so visitors know that you are a social activist on the web. Check it out!

As you are aware, my mission is to help people achieve superhero status. There are many reasons why I want people to find the superhero within them and I felt that it was necessary for me to share those with you.

Reason #1: There is too much injustice.

  • Every day people are murdered for blood diamonds, sold into the sex slave trade, abused, neglected, and taken advantage of.
  • There is female genital mutilation and bride burning.
  • In parts of Africa, girls as young as 8 are married off to men three times their age. As soon as they menstruate they are raped by their husbands, then cast aside when childbirth rips apart their bladder.
  • People are starving. In the U.S. alone, over 25 million Americans go hungry every day–14 million of them are children. I know because I used to be one of the many who, despite working a full-time job, couldn’t afford to put food on the table.
  • Many people are homeless–40% of the American homeless are children.
  • Domestic violence continues–again, I have also been a victim.
  • In the U.S. alone, 1 in 4 women will be the victim of sexual assault–most often at the hands of someone they know.

All of this breaks my heart, and I want to right every single last injustice, but I am just one person. How can I have the biggest impact? By empowering others to give voice to those who are wronged, to draw light to these issues, and to inspire people to become involved in the solution (By the way, if you question these facts I can get you information and statistics on all of these, it just would be too many hyperlinks for one little post to share them all here).

Reason #2: I want you to have a big life.

Too many people scrape by, miserable, alone, full of regret. My friend Lark Neville wrote a great post on why so many people don’t go after the life they want. It’s so easy to come up with excuses. It’s even harder to take that first step toward a new life. I want everyone to:

  • Love with their heart wide open
  • Chase their secret passion, no matter how crazy
  • See the world
  • Be recognized for their uniqueness and value
  • See nothing but possibility in this world

To do that, I have to live a big life and go after what I want and showcase others who have done the same. I am not saying a life without challenges–I’m saying achieving a big life in spite of challenges.

Reason#3 I choose not to be a victim

I’ve had a pretty challenging life. I’ve been physically and emotionally abused, lived through poverty, and dealt with the challenges inherent with being a single par

ent. I could let my circumstances rule me, but I decided to change my future, first by getting an education, then by training to become physically stronger. Beating the victim mentality is a constant struggle, but I know I’m not the only one. I want every person facing injustice and hardship to know that they can change their life. They just have to find a reason to change, to grow, and to fight back. My daughter was my reason. She deserves a strong mother, a solid role model, to show her that she can have a rewarding and healthy life and that she is worthy and able to  demand such a life.

We all can demand such a life. I hope one day we all can achieve it.