Natalie’s story: A journey to action

AAAJChi shirtsBy Natalie Yang, former intern with Advancing Justice | Chicago

I was introduced to the concept of social justice during my senior year of high school, when I conducted an independent study course entitled “Social Justice and Literature”. The idea for that topic, and ultimately the supervisor for the project, was my English teacher from sophomore year, Mr. Lubliner.

At the time, my knowledge of social justice was minimal; it was something I knew people went on Tumblr rants about, but not something I had had direct contact with. That independent study changed how I thought about social justice and the capacity for a group of people, united, to bring about change. I read works of literature like Emile Zola’s Germinal and Upton’s Sinclair’s The Jungle through the lens of populism, giving me a new perspective on both literature and the world around me. All the while, Mr. Lubliner was my guide, connecting these classic works of literature to issues like income inequality and union work.

At the end of the year, I had learned a lot about the power of the collective to oppose those in power. However, I had not gained any firsthand experience with these ideas and I was still unsure how much of what I had learned would affect my personal life and pursuits.

Fast forward to just a year later, and I was standing in a crowd of 2,000 people wearing an Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago t-shirt, cheering as part of a collective voice for progressive revenue and a government responsible to its citizens.

That experience, for me, was more than just the culmination of a month’s worth of intense work alongside Advancing Justice | Chicago staff and members of many other community organizations. That alone was amazing – that we had taken an idea conceived of in a conference room and transformed it into something very real. But on a personal level, seeing the energy of that diverse crowd of people was the physical manifestation of what I had been reading about all through my senior year in high school with Mr. Lubliner.

There was a moment in the rally when I remembered the last sentence in The Jungle:

This was exactly what was happening before my eyes. Just then, I felt a tap on the shoulder and turned around to see Mr. Lubliner beaming at me. The week before, I had called him and invited him to attend the rally, but had been unsure of whether he would be able to make it. But he had come for real, and seeing him there completed the experience for me.

He said that he was proud of me, and I knew it was for more than just being a member of the organization that had put this together. I had come a very long way from being ignorant and even occasionally skeptical of populism to being an active participant in a huge rally.givingtuesday aaaj

Being part of Advancing Justice | Chicago had given me the opportunity to take a story I had read about in a book and turn it into something I could experience in reality. It was both more peaceful and more powerful than what I had imagined. I felt incredibly lucky to witness it and I am thankful to Advancing Justice | Chicago for taking me along for the ride.

Natalie Yang interned with Advancing Justice | Chicago during the summer of 2015. Originally from the north suburbs of Chicago, Natalie is currently an undergraduate at Yale University.