Paying it forward… one step at a time.
Hello everyone! My name is Maru Gonzalez. I am currently a doctoral student in the Social Justice Education program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where my research interests include school counselor advocacy, bullying and queer youth perspectives of school climate. I am fun-loving, quirky and have a passion for activism, coalition building and intersectional justice. This summer, I will be embarking on a 500 mile pilgrimage walk in Northern Spain called El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James.
Why am I doing this walk?
Let’s go back to the beginning, back to what started it all…It was the summer of 2009 and I was one of seventeen young activists from across the country selected to attend Soulfource Q Camp, a ten day gathering designed to empower young leaders to build peer networks, cultivate progressive alliances and connect bold local activism to larger movements. As an aspiring young activist, Q Camp was exactly what I needed and more than I could have ever expected. It was the first time I was introduced to intersectional justice- the notion that all forms of oppression are inextricably linked, the belief that my liberation is tied up in the liberation of all people. Q Camp encouraged me to look beyond the scope of LGBT issues and adopt a broader anti-oppression framework.
Following the camp, we were given stipends to use toward social justice initiatives in our own communities. The seed money from Soulforce (and more importantly, the skills learned) helped launch Georgia Safe Schools Coalition. Specifically, the stipend was used to distribute a manual on LGBT youth for school counselors at the Georgia School Counselors Association conference. Since then, Georgia Safe Schools Coalition has distributed many more binders, presented at countless conferences, lobbied for stronger anti-bullying and harassment policies, and trained countless teachers and school counselors.
Q Camp gave me the tools I needed to create change in my community. Because of Q Camp, I was able to successfully advocate for a stronger anti-bullying and harassment policy in my former school district, one that includes protections protections for LGBT students and faculty. I have lobbied for stronger safe schools policies at the state and federal level, trained countless educators and worked to empower youth all across the country. Last summer, I even had the privilege of attending the White House Pride Reception and meeting President Obama.
And it all started with Soulforce. To say my life has changed as a result of those ten days would be an understatement. Soulforce made me a better activist and, more importantly, a better person.
Now it’s my turn to pay it forward so that other young activists and aspiring leaders from across the country can have the same opportunity that I had….so that they, too, can return to their communities and shake things up.
Along the way, I plan to create awareness about the mission and vision of Soulforce, build community with my fellow pilgrims and seek healing through introspection. More importantly though, I plan to raise money and LOTS of it.
I hope you’ll be part of my adventure!
My Birthday Wish…Social Change!!!
I’m asking you to join me on this pilgrimage. Every day, I will be advocating for LGBTQ justice and putting my commitment to youth activism into each step I take. Would you be willing to support me with $1 for every day of my journey or make a pledge for each mile I walk?
$30 will buy the training materials for one young adult
$75 will feed one youth activist for a week during a campaign
$100 will pay for an American Sign Language Interpreter for one day
$250 will pay for the airfare for one young adult to get to our next training
Soulforce makes an almost unheard-of commitment to keeping all their projects for youth free of cost. The pilgrimage will be entirely self-funded which means that 100% of every gift will go towards paying it forward. Soulforce helped make me the activist I am today, and I want others to have the same opportunity.
Peace, hugs and buen camino,
Fulfill Maru’s birthday wish!
You can help fulfill ‘ birthday wish in two key ways: making a donation to Soulforce and offering Maru encouragement by signing up for email updates.
(write Maru Gonzalez in the dedication field)
El Camino de Santiago, a 500+ mile pilgrimage spanning the entire northern region of Spain is a journey of mind, body, and soul. “El Camino,” as most pilgrims endearingly refer to it, attracts thousands of people from around the world. The bare bones simplicity of El Camino coupled with the demanding physical challenges set the foundation for life-changing lessons in patience, humility, and compassion. Add in the rich experience of interacting with people from every corner of the earth and one has the cross-cultural journey of a lifetime!
My pilgrimage begins on June 1st and I am allowing myself one month to reach Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James are said to be buried. A dear friend of mine will be accompanying me on the hike.
We will start in the Pyrenees Mountains in the quaint French town of Saint- Jean-Pied-de-Port. We plan to hike an average of 30 km or 19 miles a day and will continue 90 km past Santiago to Finisterre, a small fishing village on Spain’s westernmost tip once thought to be the end of the world.
We will carry only the necessities in our backpacks: basic toiletries, a couple changes of clothes (including some Soulforce gear, of course), a sleeping bag, a raincoat and a camping towel. We will stay in albergues or pilgrim hostels every night where we will have an opportunity to interact with folks from around the world who are also taking part in this magical journey.