A photo of Sam.

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

I heard this phrase for the first time just a few weeks ago, as many of us entered yet another month of what can only be described as a really hard year and a half. It resonated with me profoundly, as the inequities and suffering that this pandemic exposed have taught me to be extremely thankful for the everyday privileges I previously took for granted - a full fridge, healthcare, a job, someone to quarantine with, and many others.

I’ve worked hard to get where I am and getting this far did not come without its fair share of suffering. I’ve felt powerlessness, grief, violation, hurt, and loss. I’ve used those experiences not to make me angrier at the world and its people, but to increase my empathy for human beings and the nature of suffering we each have to endure as part of our human experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge, though, that my life experience has not been made harder because of the circumstances I was born into – in fact, the system has rewarded me because of them. As I’ve grown more aware of this, it’s become increasingly important that I advocate for the eradication of systems that reward white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity. Any system based on one group’s superiority over another is one I can’t support, even if I’ve benefitted from it.

Here are some important things I’ve learned as I’ve established my outlook on this world: Things don’t have to happen to you for them to matter you. Someone else’s success is not your failure. When we empower and support our most vulnerable populations, we are raising each of us, collectively. When you have more than you need, build a longer table.

I want women to have access to reproductive healthcare because without it, I may not have been able to complete my education, find meaningful employment, and determine my path in life on my terms. I want Black and Brown people to stop being criminalized for smoking weed because I’ve watched several of my white friends walk away from law enforcement after having been caught doing the same. I want meaningful prison reform because people I love have been incarcerated and they deserve dignity, safety, and a means to successful reentry to society upon completion of their sentence. I want every person to worship or not worship whatever the heck they want, so long as they don’t try to legislate their religion or use their beliefs to hurt others. I want people to feel empowered and safe to be their authentic selves, and to not be punished for that with hatred or discrimination.

I chose to join the ACLU of Virginia because of its dedication to people’s dignity, inherent value, and right to exist free from harm and persecution. There is so much hurt in the world; to be human is to feel pain and to experience hardship. We owe it to one another to try to lessen that as much as possible.

As the new communications associate for the ACLU of Virginia, I hope to use our communication channels to share the unique experiences of all people in a way that is inclusive and illuminating. I am thrilled to know that every day, I will be working to push America towards the nation I know it can be - one that welcomes diversity in each individual while driving its people to make life better for one another.

I am fortunate to say that I have what I need. Now, I’m working to build a longer table.