By Ann Joyce. During my senior year at Christopher Newport University I helped found Students Moving America (SMA), a nonprofit organization focused on empowering students to take positive action in their communities. My co-founder Donald Hair was also a senior at the time and had worked with me on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. In order to increase student engagement in the campaign we organized on-campus events such as phone banks, canvass groups, information sessions and voter registration drives. Unfortunately, once the election ended, we immediately noticed a drop in attendance at Young Democrats and an overall disinterest in the issues that were still being debated in the Virginia state Senate. What Donald and I realized was that there needed to be an organization that focused on the issues important to college students, while also engaging and inspiring students to take action on the issues that affect their daily lives.
That is the story of how Students Moving America was born. Late February, Donald and I grabbed coffee at Einstein’s and within the next hour we were sitting in Dr. Quentin Kidd’s office asking how we could make this idea a reality.
Over the next few weeks we worked on creating a strong and legitimate organization. Our first project basically fell into our laps when a field organizer from The Dream is Now campaign, a nationwide grassroots organization that focused on the passage of the Dream Act, contacted us and asked whether SMA would be interested in helping organize Virginia. Along with other organizations, we helped establish volunteer groups at 11 different colleges in Virginia, as well as universities in DC, South Carolina and Ohio.
We finished our work for The Dream is Now campaign in May. After graduation, Donald began working at 2U, an education technology company, and I moved to Boston to work towards a Master’s degree in international relations at Boston University. Despite the distance, Students Moving America continued to be a priority and we both spent the majority of our free time reaching out to organizations that might be interested in working with us.
What happened next was incredible. Donald gets all the credit for this because without hisobsession with reality TV and twitter, I would not be writing this blog post. At about 1 am on a Wednesday night I got a call from Donald. He wanted to start an equality campaign designed around social media that would help empower the LGBT community. Even better, he had just tweeted at Jonny Drubel, the star of E!’s new hit reality show #RichKids of Beverly hills, who responded back immediately asking how he could get involved.
SMA, in partnership with Jonny Drubel, officially launched the #ComingOutMatters campaign on February 18th. Using social media, we are encouraging users to post their own coming out stories or personal reflections on equality using the hash-tag #ComingOutMatters. This content is then streamed on to our website for the world to see.
Almost immediately after launching the campaign, we began receiving an outpouring of support. Less than 5 hours after the launch, Huffington Post published an article about Jonny and #ComingOutMatters. In addition, other equality organizations around the country started contacting us asking how to get involved. Currently, we are in the process of solidifying partnerships with companies and organizations all over the country.
Looking back to that moment when we were sitting in Einstein’s, I don’t think either one of us pictured Students Moving America being where it is today. During our time at CNU we were lucky enough to receive support from numerous students and faculty who believed in what we were trying to do. In fact, the first three people who joined the SMA team are current CNU students Erica Abrams, Jasmine Mack, and Tyler Jarrett. For some reason or another, they saw something in SMA from the very beginning and have been working for us ever since.
Donald Hair and I created Students Moving America to change the way students and young people interact with the issues around them. We started the organization to make a difference. While #ComingOutMatters is our most current project, we hope to also take on issues such as student debt, and environmental sustainability.
Find out more about Students Moving America.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.