On the final day of my 7th grade class on the Holocaust, our religious school teacher unexpectedly announced that we would be taking a final exam. As he passed out the exam face down, I became nervous that I would be unable to conjure up all of the information that we had learned throughout the year. However, when I turned over single sheet of paper, I realized with relief that it was not a typical final exam. Instead, it consisted of a single paragraph we had to read that simply stated: Your final exam in how you conduct the rest of your lives. Can it happen again? The answer is up to YOU and to YOUR CHOICES. Will YOU CHOOSE to get involved or will you be a bystander?
It was on that day that I promised never to by a bystander to injustice. Five years later, I continue to use those words as a reminder of my responsibility to stand against human rights atrocities.
In December of 2007, I discussed with Judd Holzman of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization dedicated to using examples from history to change the future, the need to unite student actions against genocide in the Chicago-area. Although dozens of student groups were taking action within their own schools and communities, coordination among all of these student groups would raise the volume of our voices and increase the effectiveness of our actions.
Soon after that discussion, I reached out to several student groups in the northern suburbs of Chicago and quickly formed a coalition consisting of 10 students groups who were all excited to become part of a larger community of student activists in Chicago. We then proceeded to plan our first event called the Youth United for Darfur Conference, which aimed to educate students about the genoicde in Darfur and how to effectively take action against it. After numerous conference calls, several meetings with the Sudanese community, hundreds of phone calls and many more emails, 150 students attended the conference in a demonstration of youth solidarity against genocide. Professional activists, Lost Boys of Sudan, and even state legislators spoke, and the event concluded with a press conference for Illinois’ new Sudanese Community Center.
After successfully organizing the conference, Youth United for Darfur participants decided that Chicago youth should organize a large-scale rally in a display of solidarity against genocide. In January of 2009, our group of 10 high schools quickly mobilized and began reaching out to high schools, colleges, youth groups, popular musicians, and influential political figures. In just weeks, we became a coalition of over 40 student groups, all of whom were excited to both plan and participate in the Youth United for Darfur Rally. We also reached out to national organizations for help and support – official sponsors now include the Save Darfur Coalition, the ENOUGH Project, STAND, Amnesty International, American Jewish World Service, Darfur Dream Team, and the Sudanese Community Association of Illinois. Through the hard work of so many Chicago students, Youth United for Darfur has spread the word to thousands of Chicago citizens and created an event that cannot be ignored by our legislators.
The Youth United for Darfur Rally has several goals. First, student groups involved aim to collectively raise $15,000 to support schools attended by Darfuri refugees in the Djebal refugee camp and the Sudanese Community Center in Illinois. In addition, the rally aims to unite thousands of Chicago activists, especially youth, against the genocide and to show President Obama that Chicago demands swift and sustained action to promote peace in Darfur. As youth in president Obama’s home city, we believe that our voices can be especially powerful in shaping U.S. foreign policy in Sudan.
The rally will take place on April 19th at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago at . Participants will hear speeches by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and State Representative Andre Thapedi, and musical performances by Company of Thieves and the Hood Internet. The full list of speakers and musicians can be found on our website at YouthUnitedforDarfur.org.
Over the last four months, I have been inspired by the dedication of so many students to ending the genocide in Darfur. Within school walls and beyond, student activists have effectively voiced their concern for the ongoing atrocities in Dafur and advocated for swift action from legislators, including the Obama administration. It is through the efforts of local citizens, especially youth, that the international community can slowly move Sudan towards long-lasting peace and stability. And, if we are to ever truly make “Never Again a reality, then we must all be upstanders for humanity by acting NOW against ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Youth United for Darfur