By Stephanie Burton
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the urge to cry, yet here I am with that undeniable and highly embarrassing tickle in my throat. We–40 excited college students, certain members of the press and yes, those original, fearless Freedom Riders–are on our way to Greensboro, N.C., a historic stop on our ten-day journey, and a single loan tear is fighting to make its way south toward my cheek, mimicking the route of the rolling bus. The culprit? Meghna Candra, 19, a University of Pennsylvania student and my bus partner for this 2-hour trip to N.C. Born in India, Meghna came to the U.S. with her parents at the tender age of two. She enjoys bike rides, sampling Philly’s “culinary landscape” and exploring new adventures. Her sparkling nose ring and long eclectic skirt adds to her overall laid-back vibe, and she often murmurs “mmmhhmm” before answering a question. You never have to wonder if she’s really listening…just wait for that reassuring sound.
This is how our light-hearted chatter began, as perhaps it does with many friendly strangers who find themselves sitting next to each other in a quaint space.
But as we talked, I began to learn more about Meghna’s hopes, dreams and fears. She told me about her family’s eight plus year struggle to gain citizenship and how it fueled her passion to reform immigration laws. She taught me a brief history lesson on immigration in the U.S. and about the unjust cases that have led so many men and women to menial paying jobs, unfair labor conditions and/or death by bounty-seeking, minute-men. My new bus companion talked about her work with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group that fights for better labor conditions for Florida’s tomato farmers. She engaged me in dialogue about the specifics surrounding this group—how some members make $10,000 a year or less, how their lives resemble modernized slavery—and I soaked up this new information. I thought, ‘Wow, this girl is going to change the world!’
Then it was my turn.
I told her about “Swipe, Swipe and Swipe Again,” the event my friends and I planned, which fed over eighty members of Tallahassee’s population. I confided in her my plans to open a pregnancy resource center in Montgomery, Alabama, my hometown, and how I can’t wait to start a non-profit for young girls. It was her turn to learn more about my hopes, dreams and fears, and she did a wonderful job. She responded by giving me a newspaper, “One Step away,” which is a publication that is written solely by homeless people for homeless people. She told me that she was going to throw it away that day, and something told her she should keep it. Imagine that! I was amazed, and I feel inspired to start a publication in Tallahassee, Florida, my university’s city.
A newsletter would allow the homeless population to find their own voice. Instead of just giving them aide, a newsletter would allow them to help themselves and to ban together to solve their OWN issues. It’s brilliant. It’s inspiring, and that’s why I sit here facing the window with tears in my eyes while Meghna helps herself to some of my Cheez-its.
Our simple conversation was like water for my mind. It was enough to give me a new idea. It gave me a new reason to do what I do!