A photo of Ben.

To whom much is given, much is required. This sense of responsibility sits at the core of my devotion to serving others. It is what eventually led me to become interested in public policy as a tool to alleviate suffering and promote substantive equality—that is, the equal opportunity to flourish not just in rhetoric and law, but in real conditions of life. I am grateful to continue my journey of lifelong learning, service, and activism at the ACLU of Virginia. Working here as a Policy Analyst will allow me to deepen my commitment to equality and justice and acquire the skills it takes to reorient government toward those ends.  

I didn’t always view myself as an advocate for social justice. For most of my adolescence I was ignorant of the issues that preoccupy me now. School was my world, and I threw myself into being the best student I could be, which often meant playing by the rules rather than questioning them. The death of my grandparents the year before I left for college prompted a profound shift in how I viewed my purpose in life and what I aimed to get out of my education.

At the same time I began reevaluating my priorities, the world felt like it was accelerating at a breakneck pace. I arrived at Yale in the fall of 2015, on the heels of protests in Ferguson, in the middle of a resurgence of campus activism, and on the cusp of the 2016 presidential election. Additionally, I started volunteering at a tax clinic in New Haven where I met city residents who faced shocking levels of insecurity and could not stay above water, no matter how hard they tried. Everything I thought I knew about how things should be was falling apart at the seams. 

The questions quickly piled up. How could this have happened? Why are some people so indifferent? Why have I been so indifferent? What should be done? Is there a connection between what’s going on here and what’s going on over there? Why can’t we seem to agree on anything? Can two contradictory things be true at once? How do I know who to believe? And yes—the quintessential coming-of-age crisis—who am I, and what do I want to do with my life?

At some point, questions like these achieved critical mass and propelled me toward an immersive study of people, places, and power from the past to the present. The simple and sanitized narrative I told myself about why things are the way they are became deeper and more complicated. For every answer I found, ten other questions sprang to mind. I pursued them relentlessly. I sought out classes, media, conversations, and experiences that exploded my notions of reality and helped me reconstruct a more expansive, coherent, and nuanced worldview. Along the way, I made friends who taught me how to fuse critical thinking with action and challenged me to widen my circle of compassion to include people whom I had previously not shown concern.

Years later, I feel like I have only scratched the surface of understanding the overlapping problems facing us today and what to do about them. Rather than being disheartened, I am more motivated than ever to continue digging for the root causes of suffering so I may discover how to do the most good I can do. And while there is still so much I don’t know, I am confident in the few things I do know.

For one, I am sure that no major step forward in the history of human rights has occurred without organized mass movements. Furthermore, I am positive that movements owe their strength not to a few enlightened and foreordained leaders, but rather to the moral clarity, courage, and talent of everyday people speaking truth to power. I am also sure that while formal equality may exist in law, it takes affirmative policies and the constant, vigorous defense of each other’s freedom and dignity for equal opportunity to exist on the ground. And most recently, I have grown more convicted in the belief that, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The opportunity to work at the ACLU of Virginia came at a moment when I wanted to act in greater accordance with these beliefs by leaning further into the social justice movements of our time. I am humbled that I got the chance to do so. In the coming years, I hope to enhance the organization’s capacity to advance well-informed legislation that meaningfully protects people’s civil rights and liberties. In turn, I hope to learn from my colleagues how to effectively advocate for policy change and build the political will to sustain that change. And true to form, I hope to unlock richer, more urgent questions about the world and my responsibility to it. While there is no guarantee I will ever find all the answers, I have faith that the questions themselves are lighting the path. For as long as I can, I will keep on walking.