It wasn’t until around my 20th birthday that I realized how impactful a role model could be. This clarity came particularly with respect to social justice issues. Growing up in a largely conservative community, I felt unsettled about a lot of the issues at play (both nationally and locally) but literally could not have been less empowered to do something about it. I wanted to err on the side of caution and keep my mouth shut with regard to speaking out because I had two main fears:
- Speaking up would cause strife with my friends, family and coworkers
- I was primarily operating on the gut feeling that something was wrong, but didn’t have the knowledge to support an argument against a flaming counterattack
The courage to become an advocate rather zipping my mouth came from Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the US Women’s National Soccer Team and known ally to many causes. Like a number of other Americans, I was captivated by her famous goal celebration pose in the 2019 World Cup — standing tall, arms stretched wide, visibly taking up space. In the months following the World Cup, I would come to understand the powerful women that embodied such a pose – a pose that wasn’t strictly a means of entertainment, but rather a symbol for all that she stood for.
I’m fortunate enough to have attended a panel about breaking the glass ceiling that she sat on at my university. She walked onto the stage and let out a spunky kick before fielding all sorts of questions about her approach to activism. The hundreds of students in the audience sat captivated by her underlying message that you don’t have to be directly impacted by a problem (racism, for example) to rally against it. Because without compassion and empathy across our differences, what real changes can be made?
Rapinoe’s activism is not new. After she skyrocketed to fame following the 2019 World Cup, she used her enriched platform to advocate further. In the past, she has protested police brutality, mass incarceration, has been the face of LGBTQ+ rights movements, and most famously advocates for equal pay and investment for women in sports. She has faced major blowback over the years, but her efforts to speak out have not wavered.
She credits lots and lots of reading and self-education to her level of awareness. She speaks eloquently about a variety of issues facing America today, criticizing those that allow injustice to continue with well-conceived arguments and logic.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve realized that my inherent gut feeling that something was wrong was not something I had to hide or oppress. Rather, I can use that gut feeling as a launching pad to educate myself on issues and come to the table informed, passionate, and driven to invoke change. Megan Rapinoe introduced me to the ways in which I can use my voice to combat injustice, to which I’m eternally grateful.