My name is Destiny Reyes, and I am a senior philosophy and English double major at Rollins College. I’m also the student coordinator of a non-partisan civic engagement organization at my school, the Democracy Project, and of course, a CEEP Fellow. Last week on October 3rd, I was given the incredible opportunity to travel with my campus advisor Marissa Corrente to the White House in Washington, DC to attend President Obama’s first (and only, I suppose) “South by South Lawn” Festival. The festival celebrated American  technological innovation, art, music, and champions for social justice. Showcased across the lawn were art pieces, booths to educate people on the merits of new technology, excessively punitive aspects of the justice system and negative aspects of solitary confinement. In the afternoon the Lumineers played a live concert, and speakers throughout the entire day talking about the progress we have made as a nation and the issues that still need to be addressed.

Across the lawn were stages where panels on various topics were introduced and discussed among professionals in their given fields. At the “Feeding the Future” Panel, farmer and CEO of Growing Power, organic power Nikiko Masumoto, and others spoke about the future issues in food production as a result of population growth and climate, and how to counter them. In another panel that I particularly enjoyed, congressman John Lewis introduced a talk on how citizens can make change in the United States on a daily basis. Brittany Packnett, co-founder of Campaign Zero, spoke about her involvement in the Black Lives Matter Movement, her struggles with the Campaign, and the impact of her work. Workers Lab CEO Carmen Rojas illustrated her work to gain fair pay for women and immigrants to the United States, standing up for worker’s rights.  President of Freedom to Marry Evan Wolfson discussed his work withcitizens and the gains he had seen since first advocating for LGBT rights.

This panel in particular had an impact on me because of the links to what I am impassioned about-Civil Rights, equal pay, the necessity of police oversight. All important issues that motivate me to do the work of engaging others with CEEP. While I’ve been working as hard as possible to register voters, engage students in the democratic process and educate them about the process and candidates, I realized that I need to do better. Perhaps the apathy towards politics that is so often purported stems not from a lack of empathy for others or passion for change, but a feeling of futility. Moving forward with my fellowship I want to focus more on educating my campus about social justice issues, because those are the conversations that motivate students like myself to take part in change. The night closed with a conversation between President Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about the global warming crisis and the immediate attention it requires before viewing DiCaprio’s new movie “Before the Flood.” As can be expected, South by South Lawn was an unforgettable experience, and one I will cherish. Seeing the emphasis our President places on active citizenship reminds me why the work at CEEP and the Democracy Project is so very important. Change happens beginning with the people, and this experience inspired me with new ideas on how to spur interest in change on my own campus.

BY: Destiny Reyes 

Philosophy Major, English Major 2017 
Democracy Project Student Coordinator
Off Campus Student Association President 

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