I never like being the smartest person in the room.
I like being the funniest person in the room. The skinniest person in the room. The only person in the room who can recite all of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” ladies in alphabetical order while simultaneously holding the plank position and blinking “HELP ME, YOU BIG DUMMY” in Morse code with my left eye. But the smartest? No, thank you. Not interested. Next.
The room I want to be in is filled with brilliant people. Not “brilliant” in the sense that they have perfect SAT scores or MBAs or whirligig patents in their names. Those kind of people usually correct my pronunciation and make me all sweaty. No, I mean I want to be around people who are brilliant because of what they’re doing with their lives to help others. And I was lucky enough to be surrounded by women and men exactly like that at the ONE Girls and Women AYA Summit in Washington DC a few weeks ago. I say “lucky” because ONE invited just 75 writers and bloggers to the Google offices to learn about the issues facing women and girls in the developing world and what we, along with females in Africa, can do about it. It wasn’t a Texas humor writer’s usual crowd, to say the least.
Of course, I’ve always been supportive and aware of women’s causes, and I’ve donated and volunteered to many of them over the years, but what I learned at the AYA Summit was absolutely eye-opening. The stories and speakers there made me feel like I could be doing more. A hell of a lot more. They inspired me to stop just skimming the headlines about the terrible conditions in Africa and instead, connect with the people who are trying to make it better.
People like New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof who has won two Pulitzer Prizes and writes about the human rights abuses in Africa that nobody else really wants to write about.
People like Marquesha Babers, a 19-year-old woman from Los Angeles who has been homeless most of her life, and is lifting herself up via writing poetry. Honestly, the spoken word piece she delivered on stage Knocked. Me. Out. There are some days I sit here in my nice house with every comfort I could ever want, and I whine that I just don’t feel like writing. Well, that shit’s about to stop. Here is Marquesha:
We also heard about the horrible reality of human and sex trafficking from Cindy McCain who told a very honest, very brave story about how she saw girls in India, who she only later realized were slaves, and she didn’t do anything to help. Now she is. And I don’t know about you, but I’m very pleased someone who looks this fierce is fighting the good fight. Don’t hurt me, Cind. I’m on your side, baby.
We learned about vaccinations and GAVI, an incredible organizations that brings vaccines to the world’s poorest children. We learned about the realities of Ebola from doctors who’ve treated patients, from a CDC representative and from Nobel Prize recipient and President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And guess what? Per the experts, you can’t catch Ebola from watching TV news programs. Better tell my neighbor he can take off his HazMat suit now.
We heard the heartbreaking, yet hopeful story of a young girl from Rwanda who fought off abuse in refugee camps, and then we were all stunned by a performance from playwright, actress and “The Walking Dead” badass Danai Gurira. She was absolutely incredible.
I could probably write 1,000 more words right now about what else I learned at AYA, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to promise to continue to share with you all I learn and hear about the ways we can make a difference. About the ways we can enact change. Because you know what? After being in a room with so many brilliant people, I believe it’s possible. Change Is Possible.
Even if none of those people in the room could hold a plank and list all of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” while blinking Morse code.
Thank you so much to the wise and generous Ginny Wolfe and Jeannine Atalay Harvey who organized this summit (and to whom I apologize for any errors in my post), to ONE and everyone who helped make it happen and to my fellow attendees who have written far more eloquently about it than I ever could. Please take a look at Karen Walrond’s recap, Luvvie Ajay’s recap and this one by Rebecca Wolff.
And to get involved yourself, do the following—both are super easy, so you have no excuse:
Join ONE Girls & Women They want your voice, not your money. Adding your name to their list helps governments fund anti-poverty and disease initiatives.
Like the ONE Girls & Women Facebook page. Find out what is happening with girls and women across the globe via their updates and links to their page. Last month, the ONE Girls and Women site was curated by Amy Poehler and this month, it’s Dr. Jill Biden. Really, really inspiring and real.