This Edition: Youth of Today–Beauty in Activism
By: Stacy Conde
Featuring: Zoe Ellsworth
What do the “Women Like Us” of the future look like? A recent conversation with my niece got me thinking about how our actions today are shaping the “WLU” class of tomorrow. This preposterous year of ill-fated elections, awful orange-cheeto-head presidents, gun control debate, health care legislation battles and a Harvey Weinstein sized Pandora’s box of sexual harassment news has done more for waking up the youth of today than we could ever do ourselves. And by “waking up,” I mean woke. It’s happened.
This past fall my niece Zoe participated in a school-sanctioned trip to Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Her experience influenced her views in a couple of significant ways. I’m going to have her tell her own story. Suffice to say I was impressed with her compassion and interest in philanthropy. She also said something that was just plain awesome. She said, “Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean that we don’t care and that we don’t know what’s going on.” Boom. There it is.
As much as this is a column (and a publication) about women “our age” and what we’re dealing with, it’s also about what we’re cultivating in the next wave of humans.
Aunt Stacy: Tell me about your trip to Houston. What did you do there?
Zoe: We were on a school-sanctioned trip to Houston. I was following the aftermath of the hurricane in the news. It was at the same time that I was applying to college. I thought about kids my age in the Houston area, who were also applying to college. Their city had just been devastated by the storm. Many were directly affected. They had limited resources. Limited assistance. It really hit home for me. I didn’t want to just send money. I wanted to make an actual difference. I wanted to pitch in myself. In person.
I didn’t know what we’d be doing when we got there; but once we hit the ground, we saw how real it all was. We saw all the destruction. We stayed in an abandoned church that had been flooded. I had seen photos and videos but it didn’t seem real until I was there.
Aunt Stacy: Who did you meet?
Zoe: We were helping a woman whose house had flooded. All her belongings were out on the street. Everything was wet and soggy and rotting: wedding cards, her son’s graduation cap, a military patch that belonged to her brother. Despite everything that happened to her, she was the most positive person I’ve ever met. She sang to us while we worked in her house and yard. She was inspiring. She was so thankful for our help.
Aunt Stacy: How did you feel about the work that you did there?
Zoe: I felt a lot different after I came back. I thought about all the places that have experienced trauma like Puerto Rico and Houston. My experience in Houston was temporary for me, but it is daily life for the people there until everything gets back in order. The night that we got back, I walked into my house and slept in my bed. I felt so lucky to have that stability and comfort. It has made me want to do more work to help people.
Aunt Stacy: You went to the DC Womens’ March in 2017. Did you take anything away from that experience that you carry with you now?
Zoe: I wanted to show support for women’s rights and issues: Planned Parenthood, equal pay for equal work, equal representation/equal opportunities for women in math and science fields, etc.
I wanted to keep working to further the conversation about these issues after I came back from the march, so I joined HeforShe at University of Michigan. We are working on making a high school chapter for HeForShe which would be the first high school chapter in the country.
HeforShe makes me more aware of things that are just not OK in terms of sexual harassment and discrimination. For example, when we were in Houston there was a man who was part of the organization helping in the clean up efforts. A couple of times he said some things that I felt were disrespectful. He called us “honey” or “sweetie.” He told my friend that if she wanted to go to law school, she should find a rich husband. He was doing good work. He was in Houston helping these people…but he was saying these disrespectful things to us. As a teenager, we are taught to “respect our elders,” but what if our elders are disrespectful? That man may have been doing noble things for the community, but his views on women were not contemporary and his comments were not appreciated.
Aunt Stacy: What does future-Zoe look like? Where do you see yourself when you hit my age?
Zoe: I have thought about where I want to be career-wise in my 40s-50’s. I think about how career driven (or not) I want to be and whether I want to have a family.
It’s cool to see a textbook 40 year-old but it’s also cool to see the diversity of people at all different ages and see how they embrace it. It has inspired me to see the different paths my life can take—and that I don’t have to be “traditional.” There’s not one thing you have to be or do.
Aunt Stacy epilogue: This interview was conducted at the end of 2017. Since then the issues that burden us continue.
Gun control debate: what is there to debate about here?
Sexual harassment and discrimination: we still have a long way to go.
Immigration: POTUS still wants to build a wall (figurative or literal – doesn’t matter).
HIM: he’s still there in the White House. I wake up every day and wish he might have disappeared overnight. Poof.
Keep it moving, youth of today. You’re our best and most inspired hope.