Today my students and I were fortunate to have guest speakers visit all four of my classes and offer a 20-minute presentation about Villanova’s upcoming Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HHAW).
HHAW is an annual event sponsored by Campus Ministry & the Center for Peace and Justice Education that engages the Villanova community in discussions around the root causes of poverty, particularly food insecurity and homelessness. The week is set aside to raise awareness through education, to demonstrate solidarity with those experiencing hunger and homelessness, to take immediate actions as well as by advocating for broader, long-term solutions that address underlying systemic causes.
HHAW began at Villanova University in 1975, under the direction of Fr. Ray Jackson, OSA. At Villanova, Fr. Jackson was immensely dedicated to both Campus Ministry and the Center for Peace and Justice Education, which he co-founded. In 1975, Fr. Ray started HHAW as well as Balloon day, an all-day event was designed to bring the Villanova community together to give back to the less fortunate. Fr. Ray passed away on June 5, 1997 but his legacy lives on through Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Balloon Day, and the Center for Peace and Justice Education.
Since its start at Villanova in 1975, HHAW is now at 500 colleges across the country. It is testament to the power of one individual to bring about change.
As I thought about it more, this past week there were two more powerful examples of the power of one.
At the University of Missouri, graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike until the President of the University resigned. The reason for the strike was to raise awareness of the racial discomfort that was on campus, and demanding that the University’s leader take some decisive action to address and fix the problems. After seven days, the President did resign, and Butler ended his fast.
The second incident was SeaWorld’s decision to begin phasing out its killer whale performances next year in favor of conservation-based shows. While SeaWorld claims that this was a financial decision, most observers believe the decision was strongly influenced by the documentary Blackfish.
The documentary focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca (killer whale) involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity.
The documentary was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. From the film’s web site, Cowperthwaite notes, “I can’t say this was an easy film to make. For two years we were bombarded with terrifying facts, autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees, and unhappy animals – a place diametrically opposite to its carefully refined image. But as I moved forward, I knew that we had a chance to fix some things that had come unraveled along the way. And that all I had to do was tell the truth.”
The common thread among all of these individuals, Fr. Ray Jackson, Jonathan Butler, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is that they saw an injustice and made a decision to do something about it, and they did.
Now all three individuals certainly realize that they did not accomplish their objectives by working in isolation, but through the concerted effort of equally committed individuals.
But it took someone to organize and motivate those team members, and that is the key role our three heroes played.
So yes, one person can make a difference when they are committed to a cause, and can motivate others to join the cause with them.
So hats off to Fr. Ray Jackson, Jonathan Butler, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and thank you for the important work that you have done.