IT ONLY TAKES ONE!
A few weeks ago I read a social media post that had a real impact on me. It was a link to a news story – not a front page story but a brief article hidden in the pages and detail of other world and local news. It was the story of innocent children being subjected to harmful and hurtful bigotry and ignorance.
In late May Year 11 and 12 children from all over Perth attended an annual Careers Expo at the Perth Convention and Entertainment Centre. The Expo was aimed at providing inspiration and advice to senior high school students. At this Expo, a number of Australian Islamic College students were asked to ‘move on’ as their presence was making a number of others at the Expo feel ‘uncomfortable’. The reason given for this was that it was only a week after the Manchester attack and people didn’t feel safe with the students around. The comments and the request to leave was directed particular at the female students, who, as part of their school uniform, were wearing headscarves.
Like so many others that had chanced upon this small news article I was utterly shocked, and upset at the terrible treatment these children had received. I read many similar sentiments of horror and sadness posted by others on social media. As I read reaction after reaction to this news I couldn’t help placing myself in the position of these 16 and 17 year old kids. How humiliated they must have felt. How unwelcome, disliked and angry they must also have felt – not only at being asked to move on, not only at the implication that others had something to fear from them, but also at being cheated out of enjoying and benefitting from such an important event.
As I put myself in the shoes of these innocent Australian Muslim youngsters I realised that I could do more. I needed to do more. Expressing my disappointment at the poor treatment they received wasn’t going to change anything. It wasn’t going to make up for the lost opportunity these kids should have had that day to ask questions and receive inspiration about their future. It wasn’t going to break the cycle of victimisation and marginalisation that so many sections of our community suffer from. It wasn’t going to do anything to prevent the chance that a small percentage of these kids may be driven to seek belonging elsewhere, in the worst possible places. It wasn’t going to change the fact that it is exactly this kind of ignorance and prejudice that drives kids into the arms of hate fuelled, manipulative criminals and gangs.
Within a couple of hours of reading this news I reached out to the College and asked them if they would like me to organise a careers event for them at the school. I didn’t know the exact details, or precisely how I would do this at the time, but I knew I could make it happen, and that these children deserved my efforts. The school was initially taken aback by my suggestion but so touched and excited at the prospect of an in-house careers event that they said ‘yes please’ and placed their trust in me.
Later that same day I put a single post out on my Facebook and Linked In pages. My post was brief – an explanation of what had happened to the students and a call out to friends, associates and the wider Perth community to join with me and volunteer their time to stage this event.
The response I received was overwhelming. Within the first 2 minutes I received my first reply, and within hours I had received emails and posts from scores of people generously volunteering their time and expertise.
Three weeks down the track, hundreds more offers of help and we ended up delivering an uplifting and impactful TED type Careers Event for the 250 senior students of the Australian Islamic College. We called it ‘Careers, The Future and Other Life Events’. Some of the generous people who volunteered their time to speak at the event were an accomplished high profile Professor of medical research, an elite athlete and advocate, professionals from the law, finance, aviation, medicine, education, architecture and engineering. We also had human resource professionals speaking, communications and recruiting experts, entrepreneurs, digital disruptors, young leaders and inspirational speakers also featuring on the bill.
People not only volunteered their time, but a number of speakers even planned to fly in from interstate, just to spend time with the students. We had a Young Australian of the Year and former Australian Islamic College student who was overseas at the time, but who recorded a motivational presentation that was played to the students. We even had some unexpected media attention, which shone a light on this good news story and made sure it featured higher up in the news headlines than the initial negative story that lead to this event.
What do I hope you will take from this experience and story? Aside from the powerful reminder that social media has the potential to mobilise people to act for good in our world today, there is another powerful lesson. This is that it only takes one person to stand up and say “I can do more” and it only takes one idea to catch on. As Mother Theresa once said, it only takes one stone to create many ripples.
For those of you who have heard me speak, you will know I talk often about the ripple effect. the capacity we all have to create ripples and waves of change – in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Its a choice, and it requires a choice to live a life bigger and beyond ourselves.
What this experience has reinforced to me is that for the one ignorant person we come across in our community, there are at least a hundred kind, generous, accepting people that are willing to speak out and stand together to embrace and nurture those that are vulnerable and have been marginalised and victimised. When the best of humanity responds to the behaviour of the worst of humanity we know there is always hope. If we continue to believe that love is the greatest weapon we have against hate and fear there is always hope. The hope is that that one day our world will become the kinder, safer, cleaner, more peaceful planet it deserves to be. We must all choose love and hope for the sake of our children and their children. We must all do what we can to creates ripples and waves.
It’s up to you, it’s up to me, it’s up to us all.