In the spring of 2007, Leana Wen, a medical student, applied to win a trip to central Africa with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. In her winning essay, she writes, “I want to fight these injustices and change the world.” She believes that traveling with Kristof will give her some tools to do this. Wen’s desire to fight injustice comes from personal experience. She explains:
My upbringing exposed me to injustices firsthand. Raised in a dissident family in China, I came to the US on political asylum after the Tiananmen Square massacre. * We were outsiders in a Communist regime and remained outsiders in predominantly Mormon Utah and then inner-city Los Angeles. Though Shanghai, Logan, and Compton have little else in common, they all bear witness to the differences between the haves and have-nots, and I grew up keenly aware of the impact of political, cultural, and socioeconomic oppression. As a child with life-threatening asthma and debilitating speech impediment, I also confronted the stigma of disability and the challenges of seeking health care with limited resources. Yet the mechanisms to address injustices eluded me.1
Wen decided to become a doctor so that she could “help those most in need.” Yet during her first few years in the medical profession, she “witnessed more problems than found solutions.”2 Frustrated, she arrived at the following belief: “Global change requires more than pills and individual-level change: it hinges on concerted education and mobilization.”3 While in central Africa with Kristof, Wen elaborated on this idea in the blog entry “What Can We Do to Help?” Her broad suggestions—educate yourself, educate others, and take action—can be applied to help solve any problem, from global poverty to neighborhood hate crimes. After reading this blog post, consider the issues that impact your community, problems that provoke your sense of outrage, or causes that you care about. What can you do to help? In particular, how can you use your voice to intervene in the face of injustice? How can you use your role as a consumer and creator of media to prevent future injustice?
*In 1989, thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, gathered in the largest public square in the world—Tiananmen Square in Beijing—to protest against the Chinese government in favor of democratic reform. The “Tiananmen Square massacre” refers to the government’s crackdown on protesters, which resulted in an unknown number of deaths, with estimates ranging from 100 to 3,000 (http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/21/world/a-reassessment-of-how-many-died-in-the-military-crackdown-in-beijing.html).
- Leana Wen, “Winning Essay: Leana Wen,” New York Times, April 29, 2007, accessed September 19, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/29/opinion/29wat-wen.html.