How my life has shaped this pursuit
I came of age professionally when the women’s rights and civil rights movements were burgeoning. I always felt inspired by social justice issues and I’ve always worked in the nonprofit sector. One of the positions I hold dearest was the last five years as executive director of the American Jewish World Service, which raises money and grants it to civil rights organizations that are fighting for rights in the poorest countries around the world, places where families were being split in half. That experience helped me get through my own tragedy of losing Lili.
Advice to those who want to make a difference
Social-justice causes typically grow from something personal, so think about what you feel passionate and righteous about. The best course to follow is one that feels meaningful to you. When you decide to act, keep things as accessible and transparent as possible and use your resources well. Also, make it intergenerational because young people are smart and they have so much to offer.
Why my approach is unique
Other organizations focus on bullying after the damage has been done. Our program motivates students to recognize social isolation problems before they develop into bullying or other problems. Beyond Differences involves a student-led movement where youths become the agents of change. Our events include Know Your Classmates Day, where kids use art and creativity to better understand their unique identities while appreciating differences in others; No One Eats Alone Day, where kids eat lunch with those they don’t normally hang out with and make a point to include those who are left out; and Call It Out Day, which is focused on raising awareness of the harmful effects of online social isolation and digital gossip.
What’s next for Beyond Differences
We want to embed the issue of social isolation in the lexicon of popular culture so people are aware of this and talk about this. We want to continue changing behavior among 11- to 14-year-old kids so they’re more likely to include each other than put each other down. My vision is to have every school in the U.S. using our curriculum and having programs that really value not just social and emotional learning but changes the attitude and culture of middle school so kids don’t suffer.
I feel like I’ve made a huge impact in the lives of kids who became student leaders. They tell me about the things they learned from Beyond Differences and used in college, either personally or by starting clubs or organizations — they’ve become active and compassionate human beings. That’s been particularly gratifying to see.