Adapted from an interview with Raziq Brown. Used by permission.
At the age of 19, Raziq Brown was the recipient of the 2008 Mary-Ella Holst Young Activist Award given annually by the Unitarian Universalist Association. His activism has taken him around the world, but the initial sparks began within.
"I started attending anti-racism and anti-oppression workshops when I was 14-years old. That's when I met ministers who said they were involved in 'social justice.' I had heard the term 'social justice' before, but I really didn't know what it meant.
Then I went to Sierra Leone in Africa which is where my mom is from. Freetown, Sierra Leone was eerily like a serf system. You had people who had money and the only way people without money could get money was to work for the people who had the money. As servants or whatever.
I visited at Christmas. And this opened my eyes to how socialized and corporatized Christmas is in the United States. Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. But, at the time, Sierra Leone was the poorest nation in the world. And I had seen poverty before, but I had never seen poverty like that before. There was no sanitation, the electricity went in and out, and there were literally kids starving in the streets. Christmas, in that setting, was completely different.
I had these feelings of knowing that I wanted to do something. But what could I do? I was only 15 at the time. I could have given away all of my money to people in the streets, but then there would have been more people asking for more money the next day. I believed that the world was really great, but I was seeing that the world wasn't the same for everybody—like it should be—which got me thinking.
Then one day at a house down the road from where my aunt lived, I saw that a little boy was really cut up after falling out of a tree. He was probably 3-years old, and I asked his older brother who was probably about 18-years old to take him to the hospital. It turned out that the family didn't have the money.
Well, I saw the little boy a few times over the next couple of days, and he wasn't looking good at all. And then I walked past their house, and I saw this little boy lying in a pool of his own vomit, with flies flying all around him and he was green. He had gangrene! And it just hit me: "Oh! This is how little kids die! This is what a high child mortality rate looks like! This is something that actually happens in the world!" And I went straight to my aunt who I knew had the money and asked her to help this family by giving them money for the hospital. She did, and three days later this little boy is running around like nothing's happened.
And that's how I started to figure out what 'social justice' means, and that it begins with me. With all of us. To me 'peace' isn't about feeling good all the time. It's about making tough, tough, tough decisions. I look at the 7 Principles as a litmus test. They don't tell you what to do. No higher power figures it out for you. You can't take the easy way out. You've got to figure it out for yourself."