That’s what my father-in-law was calling me today, professor. The exciting entry on my calendar today was serving as a guest speaker at a local high school on the crisis/genocide in Darfur. Yes, as scary as it may sound, I was imparting wisdom on the future leaders of this country. And at the swankiest high school in the city, too. I corrupted the best and brightest!
So how did this strange event come about? Well, as I’ve alluded to a couple times, but never gone into great detail about, I’ve become quite interested in what’s going on in Darfur. Some of it was based on guilt left over from my obsession with Rwanda and the feeling that I needed to do something now that genocide is again taking place in Africa. It also stemmed from some school work I’ve been doing. I’ve written one article for class about some locals working to end the crisis, one article for the campus paper about a speech on campus about Darfur, and am focusing my final project in another class on the media’s coverage of Darfur. From all these connections, I suddenly became part of the local movement. That sounds more glamorous than it actually is. I’ve just been sending e-mails to Indiana legislators in support of a divestment bill they’ve been considering, helping to organize some events in Indy, and making some very interesting connections. Indiana, Fort Wayne specifically, has become a center of the Darfur relief movement because of a large population of refugees in that city. It was through one of the people I’ve met in Fort Wayne that I ended up speaking today.
A group of students at this school decided they wanted to have a Darfur week, where they learned about what’s going on, raised awareness across the student body, and raised money for the relief effort. They contacted a few groups, hoping to get a person who’s actually doing big, important things, but all the big, important people were already booked. One of those big, important people is a lady I interviewed and wrote about. She sent the request to me and asked if I wanted to speak. At first, I did not want to. I didn’t think I knew enough, was doing enough, or was a good enough speaker to tackle the challenge. But, the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about why I went to grad school – to challenge myself – I began to reconsider. I checked with the school to see if I was acceptable, they said yes (After a thorough background check, I’m sure), and thus began a week of sleepless nights while I thought about what to say.
I put together a couple outlines, did some serious thinking, and had what I thought was a decent plan to fill my 30 minutes. I would talk about how I got involved, what I’ve done, what the divestment legislation is trying to accomplish, why I think it’s important to get involved, and what they can do. I figured it would interest the kids who had a genuine concern for what’s going on and put the other kids to sleep. Everyone’s happy!
I arrived this morning after about three hours of sleep, thanks to screaming baby #2, with slightly less than my A game. When I checked-in at the front desk, everyone knew who I was. “Oh, you’re here to talk about Darfur?! Great, we’re so excited that you’re here!” That was one of the administrators. Small school, word gets around I guess. My hostess joined me and explained that they had a long presentation yesterday about the background of the crisis and she thought kids would have a lot of questions for me. Oh, and we only had 15-20 minutes tops. There goes half my speech! She then introduced me to a couple other students who helped to organize the Darfur week. One of them shook my hand enthusiastically and said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Brannan!” (Note: we’re all Brannans since it’s The Brannan Blog!). Ugh, Mr. Brannan? How old am I again?
Some kids strolled in, eventually maybe 30 or 40 were present along with a few teachers, and I got to work. The cold medicine in my head was making my on-the-fly editing job very difficult. As some of you know, I’m a dynamic public speaker….at weddings after I’ve had a few drinks. Unfortunately, I thought it was inappropriate to have a glass of scotch on the podium, so the kids didn’t get the full show. I raced through my information, without too many awkward transitions, so I could leave time for questions. They had some good questions, too! I was impressed. They asked insightful questions about what they can do to make a difference, how they can effectively communicate with elected officials, and asked about some details of both the Indiana legislation and the Bush administration policies. They had done their homework, and I was glad I had done mine.
And then, almost as quick as it started, it was over. The kids raced to their classes, the organizing group took a picture with me for the school paper, said they hoped to see me at a rally this weekend at the Statehouse, and I was off. I hope they got something out of it. It was certainly fun to talk to kids who were so interested in such a big issue. I never would have done anything like this when I was 15-17. One of the most fun elements was the realization that I was doing what a lot of journalists do: I had become an expert on a subject and was sharing knowledge with others. Like those jackasses you see on the Sunday talk shows. I’m one step away from Meet the Press! Of course, I’m blurring the ethical lines a bit, writing about things I’m advocating rather than just sharing information about something I’ve investigated. But I won’t tell if you don’t tell.
You know what? I opened a few minds and saved a few lives today.
OK, joking about genocide isn’t cool. My bad.