As she began her Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposium, social activist and TED speaker Natalie Warne was quick to point out that advocacy wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision so much as it was purely a way of life for her from the time she was young. Growing up in a two-bedroom apartment on the south side of Chicago, which she shared with her mother (a social worker and educator), father, and five siblings, Natalie was surrounded by reflections of her family’s culture. Natalie’s mother would communicate to her children that, “You can’t be what you can’t see”; the art, music, and teachings of strong black men and women would serve as reminders of the enormity of their potential.
It was also in that Chicago apartment where Natalie learned the valuable lesson that change isn’t borne from the actions of one person, but results from the efforts of many.
“Advocacy is a muscle,” said Natalie. “It’s something you are constantly building, nourishing, flexing and growing. Every day is progress toward the end result.”
A photograph hanging above the Warne family’s kitchen table showed Natalie’s mother gazing into the eyes of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As inspiring as this photo was to a young Natalie, the idea of being involved with such a grand movement still seemed distant. It was upon meeting Dr. Vincent Harding, an activist who served as an advisor to and speechwriter for Dr. King, that she realized that a movement’s success is dependent on the dedication of all who serve it.
The Journey of Advocacy
According to Natalie, one of the most critical components of advocacy is the story that leads a person to take part in a movement. The foundation of Natalie’s journey was laid during her childhood in Chicago, but it was moments of adversity that took place a state away that motivated a teenage Natalie to act.
After relocating numerous times during her high school years, in part due to her father’s health issues, Natalie faced racial discrimination and death threats in a small Michigan town her family had moved to. As discouraging as this was, it made Natalie crave a sense of community, one comprised of young people who value justice and supporting one another.
Just days before graduation, a non-profit group came to Natalie’s school and changed the trajectory of her entire life. The group, Invisible Children, showed students a documentary detailing the human rights abuses led by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army during Africa’s longest-running war.
Motivated to assist in the relief efforts of Invisible Children, Natalie moved to San Diego following graduation and assisted 99 other volunteers in working on the film and organizing The Rescue, an international awareness campaign in 100 cities worldwide that drew more than 100,000 participants. Natalie’s dedicated efforts in organizing the event in her hometown of Chicago culminated in what she refers to as her “Oprah Moment,” when Invisible Children founders brought her on camera during a live taping of Oprah Winfrey’s television program.
Although Natalie enjoyed the moment in the spotlight, she was quick to point out that the movement had not yet succeeded – there was still work to be done.
After the success of the campaign and the excitement of appearing on Oprah’s show, Natalie reminded students that “even in valley seasons, the work you do is monumental.”
“The ‘Oprah Moments’ are important as sources of inspiration,” Natalie said. “They boost confidence and help gain momentum – but they are not the movement.”
The tireless efforts of Natalie and the Invisible Children organization was instrumental in Congress introducing legislation just two weeks after The Rescue campaign. With the finishing line in sight, 6,000 activists descended on Washington, DC to demonstrate to lawmakers how committed they were to this cause. One year later, the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act passed unanimously through both houses of Congress.
Make A Space Extraordinary
According to Natalie, at the heart of the success of this movement, like most movements, were three things:
- Purpose-driven individuals
- Community (The key ingredient to positive change, as it is the source of motivation)
- Consistent engagement and action
Natalie concluded her time with students by answering questions and offering advice on how to get started advocating for causes they believe in. She noted that Laurel Springs’ students enjoy a distinct advantage in that they have access to a global community of peers they can engage and work with, and she urged them to utilize one another to perform small acts, which can lead to great change.
Past Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women
Interested in learning more about our Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposia? Check out prior event recaps, featuring guest speakers: