One hundred and twenty hours, five days, two plane rides, nine teenagers, two incredible advisors, one experience of a lifetime. As teenagers, we often find ourselves lost in the clutter of school, extracurriculars, friends, and family, and we feel the pressure that comes from a society immersed in an egocentric attitude. But we stepped outside our world to visit Washington, D.C., as part of the National Youth Leadership Mission sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). To have been selected to be a part of this journey was an absolute privilege.
In our day-to-day lives, we are exposed to a narrow perspective of the world and its underlying atrocities. We accept what we have been taught and do not question the injustices that transpire all around us. Ours is an involuntary ignorance; it’s embedded in our generation and causes us to ignore the inequality and cruelty that plagues this world. As a result of our ADL trip, we saw the primary components that have cultivated the massive wound of a world filled with hate.
Matt Neal, a participant, said, “The five-day trip was truly eye-opening. Meeting so many diverse souls, each from a different background, having dealt with different struggles in their lives, I couldn’t help but take a step back from my own life and truly appreciate what I’ve been given. Through the impactful speakers, the potent connections made, and the activities training us to prevent bigotry, I learned many important lessons. However, the most prominent was undoubtedly to be thankful for every moment and realize that the world presents itself as a different battlefield for everyone.”
Hate does not elevate to the level of genocide in a short period of time; rather, it’s a buildup of smaller acts of hatred that leads to an explosion that could tear the world apart piece by piece. Lauren Buie said, “It was awe-inspiring, listening and speaking to Holocaust survivors and touring the Holocaust museum. Their life stories and the breathtaking pictures shown around the museum made me stop and think about how something this unbelievable could happen. This trip gave me a better understanding of the hatred that takes place around the world and has motivated me to help make a change against future hate crimes.”
We were exposed to a multitude of different cultures, races, and backgrounds, but we all had one attribute that overruled our differences — a passion to create a world without hate. Rose Saban stated, “It is truly a great way to meet new people, as well as learn useful life skills with a group that shares similar views and goals.” Elly Cutcliffe talked about the level of appreciation she gained: “This trip opened my eyes to many other opinions than my own and real struggles that teenagers the same age as me go through. These individuals made me reflect on my own life, and I will now never take my blessings for granted.”
Another word often used to characterize our trip was “indescribable.”
Paulie Santana truly was able to capture the essence of the trip: “I came to realize that we are really blessed to live in these towns where discrimination is not so active. We need this to continue, and the students who came to this trip can make that happen. We need to combine all of our brilliant and caring minds together and come up with a solution for discrimination.”
For all of us delegates, how can we recount an experience that taught us how to be better people and changed our outlook on life? How do we describe a journey that motivated us to advocate for those who do not have a voice and that simultaneously ignited a drive within us to change the world for the better?
We begin by combating the hate in our own communities, taking each and every opportunity to educate and advocate for those without a voice. We begin by speaking out and not letting the knowledge we have learned go to waste. We begin by imagining a world without hate. And we end by turning our imagination into a reality.
The authors are 11th graders who were among the tri-county students from San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, Santa Barbara, and Oak Park high schools who attended the Anti-Defamation League’s National Youth Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C., in November. The students plan to work on projects in their individual schools and collaboratively stand against hate.