Those who have experienced hardship can be the best people to affect change and personal struggle can serve as a catalyst to do it.
That’s the message Jamira Burley, an activist named on Forbes 30 Under 30, told attendees at the fifth annual Pacific Northwest Collegiate Leadership Conference on Saturday in Todd Hall.
Burley spoke about gun violence, changing national policy, the drug epidemic and how students can make a difference in their community by finding what they are passionate about.
As a young woman growing up in Philadelphia, Burley witnessed the incarceration of her older brothers, neighborhood residents and even her parents.
Then, as a teenager, one of her brothers was shot. Gun violence was a common issue, she said.
“I was 15, I didn’t think I could do anything,” she said.
Looking for a way to keep others from experiencing what her family did, Burley started an anti-violence club at her high school.
Her early start in activism took her further than her teenage self could have thought. At 30 years old, Burley’s activism has led to her working with Amnesty International and overseeing the Philadelphia Youth Commission, working with the mayor.
“Jamira is very dynamic and passionate about social change which fits our theme of compassion,” said Katy Schmitz, WSU student director of conferences and speakers.
Burley said her intimate knowledge of the problems her neighborhood faced helped her be a more effective activist. She said leaders should live within the community they serve to experience the same issues their constituents do.
“Those closest to the problem [can be] closest to the solution,” she said.
Following Burley’s keynote address, there were three sessions of workshops which focused on topics like facing conflict, leadership and ways for activists to navigate institutions to affect social change.
The conference was organized by the Leadership Center at WSU which is a section of Student Involvement. Schmitz said they have been planning the event since May.
“The purpose of this conference is to be self-aware of what is going on around the world,” said Michael Adams, an organizer for the event. “It opens the eyes of those not paying attention.”
Students from colleges including Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, WSU Everett and WSU Tri-Cities were in attendance.
The conference is required for WSU’s Emerging Leaders program, which is open to first-year and transfer students during the fall and spring semesters.
“The program has made me a better leader and has taught me how to make tough decisions,” said Dominiqua Byers, a freshman participant from WSU.