Amit Dodani is the founder of My Name My Story. As a leading young changemaker, Amit is also a U.S. representative of Ashoka’s Global Youth Advisory Council, managed by Ashoka’s Youth Venture.
I do what I do because of people like Ridhwan. He looks me in the eyes with the cancer running through his body and his story in change as his only, and by far most valuable currency. And what’s currency if we don’t spend it?
When I arrived that morning, I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time. We sat on the rigid, uncomfortable bleachers of the gym for about an hour. He shared with me how he fell in love with track. His dream was to compete in the state championships and maybe even the Olympics. He told me of his goals, his aspirations, his visions. Then he was diagnosed with cancer. He shared the pain of the disease, the anxiety of the medication, the mental battle he faced everyday. But he spent very little time on the bad. He spent most, almost all of the time telling me how strong he had become. He described the battle he fights with cancer as part of his identity and his undying faith. He described moments of agony that as awful as it felt in the moment had brought warmth to his heart when those he loved wrapped his arms around him.
Ridhwan asked me to share his story with the crowd — his entire high school, and so I did. I watched his peers, all 1350 of them, gleam in awe of this man’s strength, courage, and heart. And I watched Ridhwan stand tall, tears of joy streaming down his face as weakness left his body, while his community, his family, applauded in unity.
And in that moment I fell in love with the power of a human narrative.
We must invest our stories and our narrative into the community, and in return strive to further understand the community’s narratives in relation to ours. The uniqueness of these narratives comes from their humanity, and the power of such stories to inspire empathy among those who experience it.
Sharing will occur, people will connect, human narratives will become poems not essays. And what more beautiful sight in the world than a wonderful, diverse display of genuine human experience?
In a world in which a chaotic, fear-based painting drawn by the media often overshadows our personal experiences, human stories are our sole source of connectivity. Our narratives transcend the walls erected by our differences in race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. We should use them as a means to connect, a means to empower, and a means to organize among our communities. If we are able to recognize their exceptional value, a world seeming far too vast to unite may start to try.
I want human narratives to be chapter books instead of short stories. I want human narratives with the adventure of Tom Sawyer and the authenticity of Holden Caufield. I want human narratives with the heartfelt tragedy of Harper Lee coupled with the romance of Rocky & Adrian. I want human narratives with the fantasy of J.K Rowling and to paint canvases like Picasso. I want human narratives to be told in the voice of Morgan Freeman and in the darkness of Poe’s Raven. I want human narratives to have the depth of Plato and the simplicity of Doctor Seuss. I want human narratives to be disruptive, horrifying, beautiful, romantic, unpredictable, inspiring, authentic, and most of all — human.
I wrote this excerpt after an incredible and inspiring experience with Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Making More Health initiative in Germany. The program gathered eight young people from four different countries to launch a campaign surrounding mental health in our respective communities. (Read more on the Global Youth Making More Health Challenge, here.)
I write this on behalf of the Ashoka’s Global Youth Advisory Council — who strives to empower young people across the country to be agents of change. And I write for my own organization, My Name My Story and my team across the country, working to inspire empathy in young people everyday.
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*Views expressed in the above blog in no way represent Ashoka’s Youth Venture and only represent the author of the post, Amit Dodani.