What Did I Do in 2012?

With 2012 flying by so fast, I wanted to document some of its highlights. For me it was a big year with a lot of growing and changing to work toward the person I’m trying to be. I’m often good at being too hard on myself trying to figure the world out immediately, that I forget that it takes time to learn and to realize what I’ve already accomplished.

I rang in 2013 with some of my favorite New Yorkers including Sarabeth, Elle, Brad, and of course my boyfriend Jon. We started off the evening at McSorleys before heading into Williamsburg to feel classy at a jazz bar. Even with living in NYC, I will never have any desire to go anywhere near Time Square.


Jon and I at McSorleys

February brought my 4th Jack’s Mannequin concert. I’ve seen him in Cleveland twice, Columbus once, and now NYC. Sadly, he announced that the band was ending in November of this year.


Andrew McMahon at Irving Plaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, and as a part of Young Professionals of Amnesty International, we put on our “Make A Date with YPAI” event. At Lolita in downtown Manhattan we held the event to take action for LGBT rights including issues such as DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We had speakers who were professors, heads of organizations including In The Life Media, and ended the night with 2 transgender comedians and spoken word artist Athens Boys Choir.


Myself speaking at our YPAI event at Lolita


Athens Boys Choir performing at our YPAI event

In March, I was fortunate enough to attend two of my favorite opportunities that I had the entire year. First was the Amnesty International Secret Policeman Ball. A night of comedy and music to bring attention to the organization and some of the current urgent human rights abuses that were going on at that time. Radio City filled up with the help of a wide range of celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, just to name a few.


Alex and I front row for Amnesty’s Secret Policeman Ball


Cold Play performing

Police 3

Me, Steph, Emily, and Alex outside the event

A week later I was in Lincoln Center for three of the most inspiring days of my life as I covered the Women In The World Summit for Girls Who Rock. Jam packed with individuals who have been through the unimaginable and accomplished the incredible, I learned so much and never felt so motivated to keep working toward creating change. The summit ended with a speech by one of my favorite people, Hillary Clinton.

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton


Girls Who Rock Team

I ended March seeing Nick Kristof speak, which unfortunately I have no photos of, but you can read more here. April was filled with visitors. Both Jon’s family and mine made trips into the city along with college friends and a couple of guys from Germany. I began May with a trip to Ohio to spend my birthday in Athens, my favorite place in the world, and for our friends Mike and Mariah’s wedding. As I came back, my sister made a big move from NYC to Florida. Finally, it was time for the Girls Who Rock concert. As a digital engagement officer (the Twitter account was named most influential by Internet Week NY) for Girls Who Rock I had been helping plan and promote this event which would raise money for She’s The First to send girls to school at Shanti Bhavan in India.


The performers and Girls Who Rock team after the concert at Gramercy

In June I found out I was accepted to take on a huge life goal of mine and travel to Ghana with The Humanity Exchange to work summer camps at multiple schools in the Western Region. The next month was filled with organizing paperwork and getting shots in preparation. The experience was as life changing and amazing as anyone could expect. If i begin talking about it I will never stop, so if you want to hear more you can see what I wrote during my time with these amazing kids.


The rest of summer included playing kickball with She’s The First, holding a rooftop happy hour for Young Professionals of Amnesty International where we took action on the Arms Trade Treaty, speaking at the Amnesty office about conflict minerals in the Congo and other solutions to Kony 2012, and moving. After 2 subleases and squeezing 4 people into a 3 bedroom in Williamsburg, Jon and I finally signed a lease for the first apartment that was actually ours in Astoria, Queens. We also celebrated our 3 year anniversary on July 1st. As fall came around, we joined the Ohio University alums for a cruise on the Hudson River. I went on my first ever business trip for work to Greensboro, NC to represent Blue Outdoor at the Tanger Outlets Conference. Finally, I was made of honor in my best friend Rachel’s wedding.


The bridal party

After spending the summer reading Half The Sky by Nick Kristof, the documentary was finally airing on PBS. I anxiously went to a few screenings ahead of time of course, one which included Nick, Sheryl WuDunn, and Olivia Wilde as speakers. I also spent a Saturday volunteering at the Global Citizens Festival, a massive concert in Central Park put on by the Global Poverty Project to raise money for some of the poorest areas of the world.


Central Park Global Citizens Festival

At the end of October we made it through Hurricane Sandy only losing cable and internet, extremely fortunate compared to others in the NYC area. We walked outside to find our neighborhood damaged, but overall everyone in Astoria seemed to stay safe.


Day after Hurricane Sandy in Astoria, Queens

I accepted a volunteer position as a Researcher for She’s The First for their schools in Uganda and South Sudan which I cannot wait to get started on! After much excitement and drama over the past year, we watched anxiously until 2 a.m. for Obama to win the election. Well, some of us made it the whole time anyways.


Jon, Jacquie, and Chris on election night

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents coming to our apartment in the city. We held our final event of the year as the Young Professionals of Amnesty International on Guantanamo and stopping NDAA (which Obama recently passed unfortunately). The holiday season brought a delicious work dinner and bowling party, Lion King on Broadway for a night of fun with a few coworkers, and a trip to Ohio to celebrate Christmas, Jon’s birthday, and the New Year with friends and family.


Eric, Erin, Jon, me, Rachel, Josh

This year brought so much inspiration, love, accomplishments, and learning. It flew by faster than I could ever imagine. So what will 2013 bring for me? So far I have resolutions including eating healthier and joining a gym (pretty normal). I’m also hoping to write more, maybe take the GRE and consider grad school more closely, narrow down a focus of what issues in the world I’d like to focus most on changing, get started with my role in She’s The First, try new things, and find some me time to relax. As most people are, I’m often hard on myself for not doing enough. But thanks to this blog, for me, I was able to see all of the things I did accomplish this year, and they were pretty awesome. Here’s to a positive and even more fun filled 2013!

Young Professionals Amnesty International (YPAI) Puts On “Freedom of Expression in 140 Characters or Less”

“If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest.”  Alex started the evening off with this shocking statistic that caught the audience’s attention right off the bat.  The first of many bi-monthly events for YPAI (Young Professionals Amnesty International) NYC had begun.  Our mission–to teach people how social media affects human rights both negatively and positively. We had been planning this event for months, allowing us to grow together as a team and build our skills in event organizing to put together an outcome that showcased each of our passions and areas of expertise. Thanks to Lolita Bar on the Lower East Side for being our venue, fellow human rights connoisseurs came together in the evening to mingle, sign the actions available, and drink the “Amnesty Special” that was put together by Lolita for the cause.

We were fortunate enough to have 3 amazing and inspiring speakers.  First, Kyra Stoddart, the Online Marketing Manager for Amnesty International USA in New York set the tone for social media and human rights by showcasing her experience and writing for the Human Rights Now blog.  She showed how people no longer have to rely on traditional media using examples such as Occupy Wall Street and Troy Davis where it was a tool to mobilize many people quickly and efficiently.  However, on the negative side, there are many countries where freedom of speech is not respected by the government.  Social media could be the only tool that citizens have to get information out and try to create a change.  However, since platforms such as Google Plus and Facebook make it necessary for people to use their real names, this information can become lost.  It is essential that a fake name is used to avoid being arrested, sadly.  This is where things can get complicated, but these companies are aware and working on a way to make expression possible.

Speakers (left to right): Kyra Stoddart, Raja Althaibani, Bryna Subherwal

Next, Raja Althaibani spoke.  She currently works at Witness, but before that spent time in Yemen covering the areas that needed change there and following the revolution.  She listed several issues with social media use in Yemen: access to internet is very low, it is difficult to mobilize with social media since the majority of users are the elite.  It was difficult for her to cover on the ground footage while she was there since the mainstream media is very secure-which is where citizen journalism becomes important.  However, even while she was there she found it was very difficult to gain the attention of the international community.  “Yemen was being pushed out of the light because of Egypt,” Althaibani said.  So how do you bring attention to an area that the world isn’t paying attention to?  “Social media gives faces to stories,” explained Althabani, “if 10 people died and you show who they are it will add context over statistics.”  However, in Yemen you are risking your life to push information through social media channels.  “People with cameras (like herself) were at risk of snipers, I had my SD cards confiscated and AK 47s aimed at my face,” Althaibani said.  She asked herself, “is this movement worth putting my life at risk?”  But when she saw the people and the faces first hand her answer was clear–“yes”.

Finally, Brenna Subherwal talked about the opportunity social media gives to create connections.  However, in the United States, it is common for facebook users to worry “my colleague or relatives are going to see this post” where in other places you would worry about police coming to your door and arresting you.  It’s even common for the government to make up charges to convict those who are using social media to portray their society negatively.  Obviously not the case in the United States where politics are freely  bashed and criticized commonly on the internet.  However, these individuals know they are risking their lives and freedom to stand up for what they believe in, and they still do it regardless.  So what can we do?  “We can tweet at other countries, stand in solidarity with those in prison,” Subherwal said.  She also stressed an important point, that social media can be a good tool for social media, but is not necessary.  For example, in Egypt the government cut of power, but sometimes these limitations on social media are what drive innovation.

After the event there was opportunity for actions to be signed.  We focused on three cases of injustice brought upon people due to human rights.  Please take a look and show your support for these three individuals who are currently in prison for expressing their rights:  Jabbar Savalan Shi Tao Maikel Sanad

The YPAI Board with speakers.

We encourage other New York City Young Professionals who are passionate for making a positive change in human rights to join us for our biweekly meetings. Please join YPAI NYC on Facebook and Meet Up to become involved. We thank everyone who came, our three speakers, and Lolita Bar for making our first of many events a success. We also ask-how do you use social media to make a difference?

Please check out our Flickr for additional photos from this and previous events!

All photos are credit of Kelly Samardak, we thank you for capturing this event for us!

Lidless: An Eye Opening Story of Guantanamo

As part of the Young Professional Amnesty International (YPAI) group, we decided to have a social outing to the Lower East Side for the play Lidless.  I honestly had no idea what to expect.  As I sat in the audience, the story that unfolded before me really caught my (and everyone’s) attention.  It showed women members of the U.S. Army being both physically and sexually abusive toward the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  As the years pass,  one Iraqi man who was imprisoned comes back to their lives asking for a transplant.  After being infected with Hepatitis during his time as a prisoner, he needed a kidney to survive.  These health issues were just some of the controversial topics Guantanamo became known for as people began to protest against it.  However, any solutions were mostly neglected.  The man stirs up emotions and actions within the family, bringing up a past that has tried to be forgotten.  The daughter of the family brought about another shocking storyline to pull at emotions and opinions of the audience.


As the play ended, it left most of us sitting speechless and shocked.  We were unsure of what to do next, since our plans of getting drinks seemed rather inappropriate after what we had just witnessed.  Luckily, sitting together after opened up great discussion on the subject of Guantanamo Bay, it’s recent “closing”, and the cases today.

Lidless’ storyline hit shockingly close to some current cases Amnesty International is working with.  (Check out this site to learn more).  It also brings up the question of, why are there still prisoners at Guantanamo, and what progress has really been made since Obama’s decision to close it down?