Though activism has been a hugely significant theme in my life for as long as I can remember, I am not a huge fan of the word itself. My mother’s philanthropic work(read “artist“) is an utterly shining standard to strive for. After growing up with such an example, it is difficult for me to identify with some types of activism we see today. I feel that activism today implies that this work is done by simply partaking in the optional act of sharing a post on social media or even just having and sharing an empathetic political opinion as opposed to pursuing justice through the use of their political voices to promote equity in every single aspect of life. As a black, pansexual, AFAB, non-binary/genderfluid, first generation Ethiopian-Eritrean-American who struggles with mental health (it’s a mouthful I know), my identity and the communities I belong to are often topics for sociopolitical discourse and scrutiny. Growing up in a red county like Fresno, CA taught me that when confronted by the many faces of oppression, activism is not a choice. It is a responsibility. Marginalized bodies entering a space conjure up hi(r)stories, paint pictures, and tell stories of grand specificity before they’ve even spoken a word.
In 2005, my mother and I founded a nonprofit named ISBHA, the International Society for Better Health Access. I was 6 years old when I began sitting in on ISBHA’s meetings and the work that my mother and her colleagues were doing inspired me to get active. Along with donating all the money I got on birthdays and holidays, I became a co-founder of ISBHA’s youth group; gathering friends from school and planning events, leading meetings, fundraisers, etc. for 13 years. All the money raised was spent on building a water system, a K-8 school, and providing medical care to a countryside village in Ethiopia where my great grandmother lives today, Jemedo. We gathered sponsorships for the students, 30 of which are either pursuing or graduated from high school and college education in the nearest city, Kobo, Ethiopia. We also assembled crews of local Fresno doctors and made annual 6-week trips to Jemedo, where I served as a translator for the team while they provided medical care for local families. Pursuing my studies across the country at NYU has made it difficult for me to be as involved with ISBHA as I once was, but the pursuit of equity is nowhere near over. I am currently only a few courses away from obtaining a Politics BFA from NYU. As I continue to create political art with an emphasis on social justice, I plan to begin work as a legal aid assistant, paralegal, or part time human rights monitor post-grad.