Hi, guys. My mom is a strong black woman who raised her kids to have the same sense of strength and pride. The spirit was epitomized by a single wall in our small two-bedroom apartment on the South of Chicago. Two pictures hung proudly: one larger-than-life photo of my siblings and me, and the other, a picture of my mom at twelve years old, staring into the eyes of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
When I was younger I used to stand on my tippy toes, stare at that picture, close my eyes tightly and just pretend that it was me, gazing up to the man who revolutionized the civil rights movement, who marched on Washington and who transformed a generation by his words “I have a dream.” But I did get to meet him. No, obviously didn’t meet Dr King, but I met a man named Dr Vincent Harding. He worked with Dr King from day one and even wrote some of his most iconic speeches. You see, this was a really important moment for me as a kid, because it was the first time that I realized that it wasn’t just Dr King who led this revolution, but he was surrounded by a movement made up of anonymous extraordinaries.
Anonymous extraordinaries are people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in. People who are motivated by conviction and not recognition. It took me a long of time to realize the significance of this moment, until I was much older. And like I said, I grew up in Chicago.
I grew up in a rough, poor neighborhood but it didn’t really matter to me as a kid because literally I have the most incredible family in the world. Two things that I did struggle with a lot growing up was, one, that my dad has been sick my whole life. He suffers from Parkinson’s and pancreatitis, and as a I kid it was so hard for me to watch my hero in so much pain. And my other issue was with me. I guess you could say I had an identity crisis.
I had to move four times during high school and my freshman year. I went to an extremely racist high school. Kids were so cruel. They gave us hate letters, wrote terrible things on our lockers and because I am biracial, they would tell me, “You can’t be both. You have to choose — black or white.” And in the end I just resented being either.
And then all of a sudden my senior year rolls around in 2008 and being mixed, being racially ambiguous is this new cool fad. Like, “Oh, Natalie. Now it’s okay to like you. You’re pretty now.” I was over it.
I was really tired of caring about what other people thought and I just wanted to do whatever I could do to hurry up, go through my classes, whatever school I was going to be at next, and graduate. I wasn’t until I was seventeen and I saw a film called “Invisible Children” that something happened. Child soldiers. Children as young as my nephews being abducted, given an AK47s and forced to kill, not just anyone, but often times forced to kill their own parents, their own siblings.
A rebel army, committing mass murder for no political or religion reason — just because Twenty five years. Twenty five years this conflict has been going on. I’m twenty years old, so that makes this conflict five years older than me. One man, one man with one charismatic voice started this whole thing.
His name is Joseph Kony. When I saw this film something happened. Something started kind of stirring inside of me and I couldn’t identify what it was. I didn’t know if it was rage, if it was pity, if I felt guilty because this was the first time that I heard about a twenty five year-long war. I couldn’t even give it a name.
All I knew is that it kicked me off my ass and I started asking questions: What do I do? What can one seventeen year old do? You’ve gotta give me something. And they gave me something. The founders and film makers at Invisible Children told me that there was this bill, that if I could just get this bill passed, it would do two things: One, it would apprehend Joseph Kony, and the top commanders of his rebel army. And two, it would provide funding for the recovery of these regions that have been devastated by twenty five years of war. And I was like: “Done, let me at it, I swear. I will do whatever I can to make this happen.”
So, myself and ninety nine other idealistic eighteen to twenty year olds, hopped on a plane to intern in San Diego with Invisible Children. I was postponing college, we weren’t getting paid for this, and you can call me irresponsible or crazy — my parents did — but for us it would have been insane not to go. We all felt this urgency and we would do whatever it took to pass this bill. So we were given our first task: We were going to plan an event called “The rescue of Josep Kony’s child soldiers” where participants would come in a hundred cities worldwide and rally in the city center until a celebrity or a political figure came and used their voice on behalf of these child soldiers. And at that point each city was “rescued.”
But the catch was we weren’t leaving the cities until we were rescued. I was given Chicago and nine other cities. And I told my bosses, I was like, “if we’re going for big name people, why not go for the queen bee? Why not go for Oprah Winfrey?” They thought I was a little idealistic. But, I mean, we were trying to think big. We were doing an impossible thing, so why not try to reach a more impossible thing? And so we had from January to April to get this done.