Right Place, Right Time, Right Uniform

Interview with Charlotte Clymer

Chloe Smith

The Importance of Being Challenged

Today we met with Charlotte Clymer. I was really looking forward to this interview, and it did not disappoint. I asked Charlotte what she thinks the most effective way to protest is without harming people in the process, as she had discussed the topic in her latest podcast. She said that if you are putting other people in jeopardy in any way, you undermine what you are trying to accomplish. If you are being harmful, you take attention away from your cause or message, and you may even cause people to become more hateful or inconsiderate. 

Charlotte also spoke about how harmful division is. People tend to form an opinion and stick to it stubbornly. Charlotte’s message is that if we don’t communicate with each other, problems will never be resolved. If you don’t talk to other people who hold different opinions, your opinions can never be challenged, and it’s important that they be challenged if we are to improve our nation. – Chloe Smith

Mordecai Coleman

“You Don’t Have to Run for Congress to Be An Effective Public Servant”

Today is our last full day in Washington DC, and we have talked to some incredibly thoughtful and effective public servants, people who have a great love for others and for their country. These folks work non-stop on behalf of equality, equity, freedom and justice, both in government and in the country generally. They come from all walks of life, and while they don’t all agree on everything, they all share something in common: none of them are currently members of Congress, although a few work for or with members of Congress. I had only vaguely noticed this fact up0 to this point in our trip, but today I became consciously aware of it.

Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Clymer, an LGBTQ+ activist, trans woman, and veteran. She is a firm believer in the importance of faith in God, however that may appear to an individual. She made the point that “You don’t have to run for office to be an effective public servant.” She put into words something I had noticed throughout this trip, that some of the most brilliant and effective public servants are those who don’t hold high-profile positions. Instead, some people find their own way, based on their own sense of morality and public service, to make this country and world a better place. It is incredible to me that some people can remain grounded in their own morals and beliefs without discounting the morals and beliefs of others. Charlotte spoke about how so many people become stuck in their own way of thinking and refuse to make room for other ways of thinking. I aspire to be like her, firm in what I believe is right, but genuinely open to other beliefs about what is right. – Mordecai Coleman

Know Thy Amygdala

Interview with Linda Ryden

Lucy Harris

Fight, Flight, or Freeze: Understanding the Brain to Manage Difficult Emotions

Today we interviewed Linda Ryden, founder of the non-profit “Peace of Mind,” which helps schools implement mindfulness into curricula. She had a lot to say to us about the practice of learning and understanding mindfulness early in life. She also spoke about metacognition—thinking about thinking—and the importance of understanding how we can train our brains to work better to understand and manage emotions. I’m very interested in understanding the brain, but I have never viewed it from the perspective of using knowledge about the brain to understand why I have certain emotional reactions to things.

Linda explained that her curriculum teaches kids about brain processes, in particular how the brain processes emotions and feelings. Much of her focus is on the amygdala, which is responsible for the “fight, flight, or freeze” response to perceived danger or threat, and teaching kids to understand how to manage their reactions and allow the more rational part of the brain to function better. Although the amygdala performs an important job, as it protects us in threatening situations, kids can learn to work through conflict and stress to process difficult emotions in a healthy way. – Lucy Harris

Manumailagi Hunnicutt

It’s More Than Painting Rainbows and Butterflies

This morning we interviewed Linda Ryden, a teacher who created the organization Peace of Mind. Her curriculum teaches children from a young age about mindfulness, taking them through exercises that give them a way to understand their mind and why they feel the things they feel. I thought it was amazing that she doesn’t push the narrative that kids need to be friends with everyone in class. She understands that you do not need to be buddies with everyone you meet and that you aren’t obligated to agree with everything someone says. What she does expect, however, is for her students to be capable of being kind and advocating for others even if they do not like them. It was very nice to hear this message, because often we think of teaching peace as involving painting rainbows and butterflies on the walls and telling everybody that they should be happy. Instead, Linda shows her students exactly how and why our brains respond to stress, discomfort, or danger. She explained how the amygdala responds when you’re scared or on edge, and she discussed how she teaches students to calm themselves in these situations. This approach gives kids a better chance to develop into kind and sensible leaders who lead with compassion. I believe that this method is the most effective way to teach peace. – Lagi Hunnicutt

Amelie Zands

It Starts With the Way You Talk to Yourself

Understanding how your own brain works is the first step to understanding others around you. Linda Ryder spoke to us today about the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the fight, flight, or freeze response to danger. This part of the brain is triggered when it senses danger. Sometimes, however, this response is triggered when one is not in danger, for example, when one is simply stressed while taking a test. She teaches students up to the eighth grade how to sense when they are triggered and to understand how and why they feel as they do, so that they can gain control of their emotions. When students are able to control their emotions, they are then able to reduce the possibility of conflict. Students can then look more critically at a situation without being overcome by fear or anger. She explained that minimizing conflict “has to start with you and the way you talk to yourself,” so that you can then move on to face larger problems. As a result, students are able to communicate better with themselves and others, and thus work to create a better environment for everyone. 

Linda’s goal is to help people understand one another. She often asks her students to think of a person in class whom they don’t know very well and then to think of things they have in common, for example, how they get home from school. After the exercise, students often say that they had never thought about how fundamentally similar they are to those people they had previously thought were very different from them. This exercise helps students to remember that everyone is human and that kindness is essential if we are to have the conversations necessary to change the world for the better. – Amelie Zands

Nash Wilson

Peace of Mind and the Science of Mindfulness

Linda Ryden is much more than just the person who started the Peace of Mind curriculum. In her interview, she told the story of a special education staff member who would sit on her couch in the back of the room while her students did their mindfulness exercises. He confronted her to tell her that he thought she had “the luckiest job in the world” because she “gets to sit around all day and meditate.” However, once he learned that there is scientific research behind her curriculum, he became a believer and got on board. I find it interesting that many people underestimate mindfulness as a way to manage some emotional problems. Linda gave the example of one school that had behavioral issues with students. The school spent a lot of money on security guards and “behavior techs” who would break up fights and discipline kids, but the behavioral issues continued. 

Linda explained that the amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response to real or perceived danger. I really enjoyed how she used the example of a math test to explain brain science. Often when students see a question they can’t answer they will become stressed. Some students will want to “flee” by quitting the test or asking to go to the bathroom. Other students will want to “fight” their test by crumpling it up and throwing it on the floor. Still others will “freeze” and be unable to complete the test. I think the last possibility is the most likely for many students. – Nash Wilson

This Too Shall Pass

Interview with Former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Amelie Zands

“Cuba is Not Free, and Human Rights Are Not Respected” 

Today we interviewed Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the former congresswoman from Miami. She is a Cuban immigrant who moved to the US when she was eight years old. When her family left Cuba, they bought round trip tickets to the US, as they always thought they were going to return home. Decades later, she still has that ticket. 

My grandparents fled from Cuba to New York when they were about seventeen and eighteen years old. When I heard that we were interviewing a former congresswomen who was born in the same city as my grandmother, and who understands a part of my heritage that not many people do, I was ecstatic. I asked how her experience as a Cuban-American affects the way she views US foreign policy, and she replied, “It has shaped how I think.” Her understanding of how the Russian government has been involved in Cuban affairs has fueled her passion for helping foreign countries face similar problems in their own governments. She explained that she works to make life better both in the US and in Cuba: “I work hard and pray, hoping that someday my homeland will be free.” She is passionate about bringing people together, “building bridges and not blowing them up.” I hope that one day I am able to visit Cuba in a time of understanding between people. – Amelie Zands

Lucy Harris

A Lesson in Bi-Partisanship

Today we had the pleasure of interviewing former US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this interview, since we hadn’t yet interviewed someone with such close ties to Congress and government. I was also very curious about what we would learn from her, since she comes from a political background that differs from that of the others we have interviewed so far.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed hearing about what Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had to say about how much connection matters in life. She spoke a lot about the importance of bipartisanship and building bridges with other individuals, even when those individuals have different views from you, come from different backgrounds, cultures, or have different identities. It was nice to hear how much she had to say about this topic and how she tries to include bipartisanship in all of the work that she does. She was adamant about how it is important to believe in yourself and the goodness of people. Finding the good things about people helps to connect with them even if you are initially suspicious of making that connection. – Lucy Harris

Manumailagi Hunnicutt

Living Outside the Bubble

Today we interviewed former congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I was nervous to interview her since she was the first conservative interviewee that we’ve had, and I thought that since she was in Congress and had a very high standing in our government that the interview would be a lot more formal and perhaps uncomfortable than our previous interviews. To our surprise, she was extremely relaxed and funny. She was personable, genuine, and generous as she spoke to us. She gave us bags of popcorn and plates of cheese that we enjoyed during the interview. The visit was really nice, to be honest.

She stated that a major reason that she retired from Congress is that there is so much toxicity in politics, and no one seems to value bipartisanship. Her words affected me because I am always astonished that so many people refuse to listen to others with different beliefs. I’ve noticed that we tend to live in social bubbles in which we only interact with others who share our beliefs. While it is comforting to live in a bubble, not opening ourselves to new ideas and perspectives hinders improvement of our democracy and increases polarization. I often find myself having the same interactions with my peers, so knowing that people in our government also value connection with those who hold different beliefs is reassuring. – Lagi Hunnicutt

Stay Educated and Make Noise

Connor Murphy
Thulani Mabaso

Before the sun cut through the morning’s winter chill, we were fed and on a bus set off for the Cape Town harbor; from the harbor, we took a boat to Robben Island. Robben Island is the place where Nelson Mandela as well as other political prisoners were held for defying apartheid. One such political prisoner was our tour guide, a man named Thulani Mabaso. At the young age of 15, he was captured and brutally tortured for fighting against apartheid. Learning this was one of many humbling moments of the day.

During our interview with Thulani, I was shocked to hear the stories about his horrific incarceration and I was humbled by his vulnerability and openness in sharing his experiences with complete strangers. I was left in awe by his conviction and strength of will. He told us about participating in hunger strikes so long that he was forced to eat in a hospital. Lastly, I was put into a pure state of wonder and I was left humbled by his ability to forgive and move on. This was a man who was tortured for months without trial and constantly degraded and abused by authority figures. A man whose world was unjust. Yet, despite these extreme injustices this was also a man who, once released, treated one of his guards to dinner. His ability to believe in the good in the world, forgive, let go and move on, and the way he turned anger into focus and drive, left me and my classmates in awe.

From the canyons of emotions that we traversed with Thulani, we traveled into the heights of Table Mountain. The views from what I would call the peak of the mountain, if it were not flat as a table, left me in almost as much awe as Thulani had. At the top of Table Mountain was the first time it truly struck me that I was in South Africa. As I stood at the top, I turned to my left to see the southern tip of Africa whose curvature I knew from maps, and to my right stretched the expanse of South Africa’s coast off into the mist. It was then, with the expanse of the continent before me, that I could reflect on the legacy that we stood upon. Just as I stood upon Table Mountain, I stood on the shoulders of all those classes that came before me. Each interview feels like an extension of the last trip, as we get to continue our journey deeper towards the heart of South Africa.

Cecilia Rothman-Salado

Today we traveled to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela and many others were imprisoned for years. We got the incredible opportunity to interview Thulani Mabaso, a former political prisoner there. The interview was powerful, horrifying, and deeply saddening, yet somehow at the same time it empowered me. Although I haven’t done many interviews, I can almost guarantee that this interview will have been one of the most moving interviews of my entire life. I will never forget our time spent with Thulani.

The boat ride from the mainland to the island took about 20 minutes; I’m not a person who gets that affected by motion sickness, but I’m not going to lie, the trip over for me was quite sickening. The boat was rocky and the rolling swells brought me and others some unsettled nerves.

When we got off the boat, we were greeted by Thulani, and immediately his kind demeanor made me at ease. I remember whispering to Ksenia, while walking towards the prison, “Wow, I really like this guy,” even though he had barely said any words to us yet. He was calm and reserved, and the energy that he carried with him was very soothing.

First, Thulani gave us a brief but thorough tour of the prison. As soon as we got through the doors of the prison, my other classmates and I felt very uneasy. He showed us the place where straightaway prisoners were taken to get their prison numbers, as well as being stripped naked, inspected, and searched all over their bodies. The guards’ treatment towards them was inhumane.

Thulani brought us to the courtyard, which was basically a concrete box, where prisoners were given the chance to exercise and play games such as soccer, tennis, and volleyball. He told us was that one of the ways that prisoners communicated with other prisoners who were in other cell blocks was by cutting open tennis balls, putting secret messages into them, and hitting them over the concrete walls.

Thulani showed us the cells that the prisoners were locked in. The cells were 2×2 meters and contained a thin sleeping mat, a small stool, and a bucket; you can guess what it was used for. We could walk into Mandela’s cell, though there really wasn’t much space to walk in. Thulani said that Mandela couldn’t sleep with his legs fully stretched out. This gave us perspective on how little the guards cared about the inmates.

The last part of our tour was our formal interview with Thulani where he shared with our group some of the most disturbing stories that I have ever heard. From a very young age, Thulani fought against apartheid. He was arrested, tortured, and beaten, and was ready to die. The fact that Thulani could be so vulnerable with a group of teenagers, that he had just met, brought many of us to tears.

I was most moved by the fact that even though Thulani experienced so much pain and suffering, he could find hope and forgiveness through it all. The way that he could forgive the people who treated him so horribly was inspiring to me. This is a lesson that I want to carry back with me and implement into my life. I want to learn how to let go of grudges and resentment, and be a more forgiving person overall. Thulani has inspired me to become a better person.

Ksenia Medvedeva

“Injustices should not be promoted; we must promote justice in the world.” This is one of the many quotes that I was struck by during our interview today with Thulani Mabaso, a former political prisoner from Robben Island. I think I can speak for the whole class when I say that despite the inhumane suffering that he endured, Thulani was an incredibly compassionate man and used his experiences to fuel his lifelong journey to find truth and pursue justice.

It was a cold, still morning. I, along with many of my classmates, stood anxiously on the docks as we waited to depart. Today being our first interview, I didn’t know what to expect, and the cloud of unknowing seemed to loom over me and mock the clouds in the sky. I was already quite distressed due to my luggage not arriving in Cape Town the previous day, but I tried to not let that interfere. Despite all the fear and unfamiliar territory, I had faith that it would be an impactful and perspective-altering interview. I clung on to that thought and it put me at ease as we made our rather sea-sickening trip over to the island.

My heart jumped into my stomach as Thulani slammed the first of many metal doors, signaling the beginning of our tour. He explained that this was how the prison guards closed each door in the prison, giving insight into how the prisoners were constantly intimidated. The prison was cold, concrete, and echoed with the buzzing of the overhead lights. We were taken into several rooms, including Nelson Mandela’s cell and the courtyard where Mandela hid his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” Finally, we circled in a cafeteria and began our interview.

Thulani shared his story with us. I was speechless. It was almost unbearable to listen to, and a wave of shock and awe overcame our group. Many people began to cry, as did Thulani himself. The atmosphere in the room shifted as he spoke, and vulnerability seemed to seep out of his words. He was so young when his fight began, and he endured so much loss and hardship, yet he still managed to find forgiveness in himself. This inspired and empowered me. Honestly, his words and values are something that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life. I’ve always heard stories of resilient people who fought through their hardships using hope, but meeting Thulani and having a first-hand account of someone with this immense emotional strength was truly moving and made me feel more connected with the world. “Stay educated and make noise,” he said in regard to advice for our generation. After today, I know I will.

Mount Madonna students with Thulani Mabaso

Treasures in the Market

Isaac Harris

Of all the amazing places we have visited during this trip, Dharamsala stands out as my personal favorite. Not only is the shopping sublime, but it also is host to a large portion of the Tibetan people in exile. Due to this demographic, much of the city has noticeable Buddhist influences, and serves to be an interesting contrast from the Hinduism that we have experienced so much.

However, what stands out to me the most is the shopping. I have found a number of treasures in the market, including items such as Tibetan singing bowls, fur hats, and yak wool blankets. Most of the group’s money was spent while wandering these streets, and what continues to amaze me are the low prices, which have remained consistent throughout all of India. Every time I make a purchase, it is for just a fraction of what it can be sold for in the U.S. Now as we are beginning our return home, I must accept that back in the U.S. it is not the same, and the prices of items will inevitably be higher. India has been the shopper’s paradise, and I will miss it very much because of my affinity for shopping. Bargaining with the shopkeepers and finding the best deals was extremely enjoyable, and I had a great time exploring the streets of Dharamsala with my class.