On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.
Each February, university students from around the world gather in Boston, Mass. to participate in the Harvard National Model United Nations, one of the most prestigious model United Nations conferences in the country. This exciting diplomatic event puts top students in fierce competition with one another to emulate the actual happenings of the United Nations, with perhaps a bit more partying. I participated for my second time this past February, and what was just a fun academic endeavor for me, I soon learned, meant so much more for many other students.
Alex and DJ were two friends I met at the conference. I was drawn to this passionate pair due to their brilliant politicking and consistent character. They were simply too good at “MUN” for me not to be involved with them in some way. Perhaps their Venezuelan nationality had something to do with this passion, but I am regretful in saying it far exceeded mine. For I, surrounded by many international students that came from far away with many diverse backgrounds, traveled just 20 miles from Gordon College with an attitude of indifference. I was even unclear as to why I was at the conference, other than the fact that I had done it before, I was decent at politicking, and I respected my professor too much to drop out. I was not thrilled to be going.
Let me fast forward to Friday night, just one night after the conference began. My partner and I went out to eat with a group of new friends from our committee. DJ and Alex were among them. We got our food, sat down, and started to small talk about things other than pharmaceutical funding, patents, non-communicable diseases, and the like. At the table were American, Venezuelan, Dutch, German, and Peruvian students. Among the conversations bouncing around the table, my ears perked toward DJ’s. He in his, at times, fast-paced and inaudible English, was recalling his home life in Venezuela. DJ and Alex were from a Catholic school in Caracas.
What I didn’t know until that night was that they understand firsthand the political oppression and injustice that we were merely debating in our committees all over the Park Plaza hotel. DJ was—and still is—among passionate students in Venezuela that protest and riot in the streets against government and police officers. Alex, a big sister to DJ in many ways, saw his fighting and rioting as petty, in a more teasing manor. But the look in both their eyes that night suggested they were both on the same page: Venezuela was a home they loved but one they feared and felt ill-represented in. DJ divulged of being the spokesman in riot groups, instilling passion in the crowd of young people, crying out for democracy and for their voices to be heard by the government of Venezuela. While he preaches in the streets, tear gas and water canons deploy against them. He simply said, “You get used to it.”
There I was, staring into the face of a passionate, persecuted individual. For a moment I felt his pain, his frustration; but, there was something else I felt that I was confused by—his hope! Unbeknownst to me, there were other reasons students attended this Model United Nations conference. He and Alex came to prepare for the desperate fight against injustice awaiting them back home. My ungrateful, casual reasons for being at the conference paled in comparison to their reasons set in reality. DJ in particular spoke of his gratefulness in being able to attend this conference, and what it meant to him. By the time dinner had ended, he said when he became President of Venezuela he would remember me. But for now he has work to do, and Harvard National Model United Nations was an important instrument in this development. For DJ, it meant empowerment to be a voice for the voiceless in a nation that has severely reduced the capabilities of its citizens.
After Friday’s dinner with DJ and Alex, I began to see the conference in a new light. I was inspired. Justice was no longer limited to a theory based in rhetoric. It became real to me that I had sisters and brothers around the world, no matter their religion, ethnicity, or age, who believed in a mandatory fight against injustice. With this in mind, the education we receive and the justice we speak of should not to be taken for granted. Nor should we let guilt and our American guise prohibit us from just action. We have the great ability to voice our concerns in many different realms under the protection of our constitution—a privilege that many others, like DJ and Alex, simply do not have. At an international level, in our federal government, at the state and local level, within the church, within our families, or even across our campuses—where we see injustice, we must not remain silent.
Remember this: you are not alone, I am not alone, DJ and Alex are not alone, and in solidarity we can accomplish what this world has yet to see. The injustice you see on your campus towards fellow minority students is not too small a cause. The injustice you see in international human trafficking is not too large a cause. Fill in the blanks—we have a mission, and a recklessly compassionate God, who loves this world. John records Jesus in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, saying the following: “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Through our actions against injustice, the world will believe. Through our rhetoric, division, and ignorance, they surely will not.
DJ had a peculiar way of positively responding to things [in English]. His word of choice was “happiness.” If a waiter brought him a drink, he would respond, “Thank you! Happiness!” Whether it was in greeting, or in saying goodbye, his response was always “Happiness!” So, as DJ would say, happiness friends, and remember the DJ’s and Alex’s in our world. Keep them and their causes in your prayers, and join them where you can.
-Kendall Trey Walsh is a junior at Gordon College majoring in sociology.
Photo courtesy of Kendall Trey Walsh