4th Quarter, 2006
Law School Scholarship Winner
Originally from Chicago, Allison has spent most of her life in Detroit, Mich. and the surrounding suburbs. Allison gained a passion for social justice though attending an all female high school founded upon the principals of the Catholic Social teachings. In Grand Rapid, Mich. Allison completed a double major degree in sociology with an emphasis in race relations and non-profit administration Grand Valley State University.
At Grand Valley Allison was named Most Outstanding Student in Sociology and also given the Thomas M. Seykora Award for Outstanding Contribution, an honor reserved for a graduating senior who has most effected the University during their time there. Currently, Allison is attending the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where she has been elected as President of her class. Upon graduation Allison plans to remain in Detroit, continue her activism and work in the public interest field to serve the under-privileged.
A Portion of Allison’s Winning Essay:
Sixteen, summertime, scorching heat and glorious Italy. A rebellious teen, having the opportunity to travel overseas without parents promised adventure. Pope John Paul II invited young people from across the world to Rome for the bi-annual celebration of World Youth Day. I swung the cab’s door and took my first steps on the ancient streets. Unknown to me, the next time I would enter a taxi, my life would be affected by a war that had surely only taken place on my television.
As I toured the city, an American flag, a patch spotted on my backpack, became cause for celebration. The fast and loud dialogue of an unknown language coming from a group of teens became focused in my direction. I was startled as this group began to gather around me. “American? American? You can help us?” was the question one girl asked. Her expressionless face quickly turned into excitement when she received my answer.
Unlike me, I learned these teens would never be returning home. Their home, Kosovo, no longer existed as it did in their memories. Having gained special permission from their government to travel to Rome, they had promised to promptly return after World Youth Day. Surviving years of death and terror their heartbreak had not yet ended. These children, mirror images of myself, planned to remain in Italy. Secretly saying goodbye to their family and friends, they would not be returning to their refugee camp.
Grabbing my backpack to offer some financial assistance, she shook her head-signaling no. Her desperation ran deeper than my pockets. Her request, “Tell your President about us,” about the families living in refugee camps under horrifying conditions. In regret, I failed at explaining I was only a kid! I felt there was nothing I could do to help. The Kosovar teen, pleaded, “Do not forget us, do not forget me when you go home.” These words would bury themselves deep into my soul and echo through both my heart and mind.
This overwhelming experience traveled back with me to the U.S. My foundations had been rattled, and I saw my own life in a new light. How could the injustice these displaced people endured be permitted to occur? The refugees had asked for my assistance because they understood even a child in America had a right to speak freely without fear. If strangers from a foreign country understood better than I, my powers as an American, what other powers did I have? What other injustices could be invisible to me? A critical lens of questioning had been created and it was unstoppable.
Opening my closet door no longer became an activity for picking a wardrobe but for researching where my clothing was manufactured. I learned how to track on the Internet where my shirt had been from its birth in Burma until its arrival in a suburban Detroit Gap. Once-enjoyable trips to the mall became a sickening experience, as I felt betrayed. The friendly brand names I once pledged my complete loyalty to were now tainted by the reality of their sweatshop manufacturing practices and advertising that preached value in material, not people.
In an interconnected world of globalization, simple solutions rarely exist. Yet, a first step must be taken when human abuses occur. The apathy and ignorance that permit inequality must be challenged. The United States, as a country that prides itself upon opportunity for all, must challenge attitudes that permit disparity. An ideological dichotomy is alive within our country. This ideology assumes that because the Constitution states, “all men are created equal,” all have corresponding access and opportunity. Assuming this equity exists for all is dangerous. When people are unwilling to question the status quo, they shut down opportunities that may further true equity. Not only in the classroom must the presumption of a preexisting equity be challenged, but this presumption must also be challenged by the choices and lifestyles of people who seek justice in a complex interconnected world of globalization.
Narrowing my scope of activism, I now choose to educate those around me to the dynamics of power that permit injustice. To educate is to lead, expressing knowledge that furthers society. To lead is to educate others out from a darkness; out from a veil blind to oppression. To be educated, is to see the world in a new light. I believe seeing the world in a new light will lead to positive change.
I hope to be a lawyer that leads by challenging invisible injustice. The injustices that some have been blind to, while others have consciously ignored. Decisions made in the U.S. Judicial System historically and currently touch all aspects of life. From plights of poverty, freedoms of speech and battles of business, each individual’s reality can be affected. Yet, many violations go unchallenged, as some victims feel unable to fight these battles. By tolerating the hopelessness of casualties and the victories of villains, one accepts chaos. Lawyers must actively choose to work against chaos, as they have the ability to set standards and educate their communities.
I experienced the power a lawyer’s expression can have when charges of reverse discrimination were brought against the anti-hate campaign I introduced as vice president of my university’s, Student Senate. Specifically, the predominately white, male social fraternities felt my campaign, “10 Ways To Fight Hate, ” adopted from the Southern Poverty Law Center, was hostile towards white heterosexual males. The fraternities, speaking before the Student Senate, demanded that the campaign cease being funded by the Senate, it be banned from our campus, and that I be expelled from the Senate. With many supporters by my side, I defended the importance of the campaign and won.
However, my most important lessons were learned in the aftermath. Our community’s public sphere erupted with dialogue; strangers now had a personal opinion of my campaign or me. My words were quoted in print and on television, my in-box was a nightmare and one group’s protest against the Student Senate’s decision in my favor made CNN’s Headline News. I understood that having the power of a lawyer allows an individual to publicly express a perspective. If permitted this power, one must work cautiously and purposefully, as a lawyer’s expression may greatly impact a community.
Power and Freedom: I learned the meaning of these words at an early age. Fatefully encountering the Kosovar refugees helped me to understand the impact of a story and allowed me to view the world from a different perspective. In our meeting I not only saw the fear that existed in their eyes, but I felt their pain in my own heart. For the first time in my life, I not only understood intellectually what it means to be disenfranchised, but in feeling their fear I learned solidarity. When I stepped onto the plane to leave Italy my walk had moved onto a new path. Although the refugees asked me for help, I was the true benefactor of our meeting. With each testing step along my path, I have been overwhelmed with too many reasons not to turn back. To become a lawyer is not my ultimate goal, but to defeat systems that oppress other’s freedoms would be a good start. I am dedicated to never forgetting the forgotten. In my lifetime roadblocks may impede realizing my ultimate ideals of true justice and true freedom. Yet in hope, roadblocks do exist with purpose: to pass through, not to go around, not to avoid and not to obey.
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