In March of 2012, I was fourteen, and just finishing up my freshman year of high school. I remember there was about one week in particular in which I saw posters scattered around campus with the words Kony 2012 and the silhouette of a man on them. Me being the ignorant freshman that I was, I started talking to people, trivially asking them what these red flyers were doing littering our hallways.
“Haven’t you heard about him? Child soldiers and sex trafficking?” I think my friend Oyenbhen was attempting to enlighten me.
“Oh” was my ambivalent response. I went home later that day, did some light Googling, but didn’t look much further. It just looked like a political call to action for another atrocity being sensationalized “somewhere in Africa”. Injustices, abhorrence, death…happens every day.
How utterly heartless I was.
That poster couldn’t reach me the way it managed to become embedded into pop culture that year, from social media to legislative actions at the federal level, I was more concerned with my track and field stats. If there was anything I took away from that week of annoying red posters, was that child soldiers existed for some reason, that it was horrible, and that something must be done about it. But none of that applied to me, because I couldn’t do anything except offer sympathy to a fellow sympathizer.
Fast forward six years later, and everything changes in the course of 60 minutes. I’m face to face with a guy, not much older than myself, who is a refugee from Congo that was kidnapped at 11 and “trained” as a child soldier for about three years of his life. He saw atrocities no one should experience, let alone a young boy. And this was all because he didn’t take a taxi home one night.
This high school flashback replays while he’s telling his story, and though he had nothing to do with Kony, this was the only way I could relate to him. Shame, guilt, and incredulity course through my veins. These people exist, they have experiences to share, and six years ago I diminished them to numbers and political strategy. If only I would have known.
He’s dressed in a Dutch cameo shirt with dark green trousers, and white Jordan Super Fly sneakers. He’s got his dreads pulled back, and actively engages in a conversation that is anything but easy. Under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have guessed he was a war survivor, a refugee, a musician, a political activist, or anything more than just some guy. In some ways I suppose it’s refreshing that no assumptions were made, but ironically, no assumptions also implies no empathy.
I felt many things after hearing his story, and it showed me the power of human interaction and an authentic voice. Presence, body language, and eye contact, he created a connection that posters from years ago could never convey. Good PR can raise awareness, but it takes something a bit more human to create a connection. A connection in which others can begin to fathom the fathomless, and join a cause with their heart rather than their mind.