Unleashing courageous leadership and collective power
to realize a just and loving world.
From Marisa Jurczyk:
I found my calling for social justice the same way I found much of who I am today: through music. One of my favorite songs from high school choir, titled “Prayer of the Children,” was particularly influential for me:
“Can you hear the prayer of the children,On bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?Empty eyes with no more tears to cryTurning heavenward toward the light.“Crying softly, ‘help meTo see the morning light of one more dayBut if I should die before I wake
I pray my soul to take.’”
I pray my soul to take.’”
As I sang this piece, I found myself thinking about the many young people, near and far, who were experiencing more pain than I could ever imagine from the perspective of my comfortable suburban life.
I thought of children who go to bed hungry night after night. I thought of children who have no place to call home. I thought of children who witness horrific acts of violence. I thought of children who are stereotyped as dangerous simply because of the color of their skin. I thought of the children to come who will be left with land that has been irreversibly damaged by centuries of carelessness and abuse.
I’d heard about some of these children from time to time throughout my life; I’d seen them used in TV advertisements for giant non-profits and heard adults mention them to guilt me into finishing my dinner. But never before was I offered a chance to empathize so deeply with them, to share a small piece of their pain, to stand for and with them, to speak on behalf of them.
I’ve known in my mind from a young age that I wanted to make a career out of working for a better world. But through music — in this song and in others — I felt that simple wish come to life and turn into a desire burning in my heart and throughout my entire body. I realized that singing words as heavy yet as moving as these was not only a privilege; it was a responsibility. I knew that I had a choice in that moment, as I do each day, between simply performing these words and being wholeheartedly transformed by them. I decided to do my best to always choose the latter.
Moments like these kept me motivated in my work for justice and led me to where I am today. As a student studying social justice, I hope to use what I learn to help build a world that is more loving and just. I look forward to bringing my experience social justice education and community organizing to my work at MUUSJA and am both excited and humbled to learn and grow alongside the Beloved Community.
From Jessica Simonoff:
Hello! My name is Jessica, and I’m a MUUSJA intern this summer! I’m nineteen years old. I grew up in Maryland, a little bit outside of Washington, D.C., then went to a boarding high school in rural southern Pennsylvania. Upon graduating, I moved to a suburb in middle Tennessee with my mother, and shortly thereafter, I headed off to college in Portland, Oregon – Reed College, to be exact, where I’m entering my second year.
I’ve been passionate about social justice for as long as I can remember – literally. One of my earliest vivid memories is from when I was seven. I was sitting in my backyard playing with rocks with a friend from school when she said that she didn’t have a problem with gay people, she just “thought they should keep it to themselves.” I started a heated debate with her over it, saying that she would never say that about straight people, and if she didn’t have a problem with gay people, why were they any different? (I’m still close with her, and she’s changed her views entirely – lucky for me, since I’m not exactly straight!)
I first started serious social justice work in high school, when I became heavily involved with my high school’s Rainbow Alliance (what we started calling our LGBT+ student organization after a few students, myself included, decided that “GSA” wasn’t inclusive enough). I mainly focused on LGBT+ justice activism within my school community, as it was very needed there. Before graduating, I successfully worked with the school administration to remove gendered and binarist language from our school’s handbook, to turn the school’s dress code gender neutral for the first time in over 100 years of the school’s history, and to create and maintain gender-neutral restrooms throughout campus.
Unfortunately, there were few opportunities for me to get involved in social justice work off-campus in high school, as it was in rural southern Pennsylvania. When I moved to Tennessee, I became involved with the Nashville movement for Black lives and with Food Not Bombs (a radical anticapitalist food kitchen that serves everyone), but still wished there were more ways I could help out and get involved. I found that in Portland, where I became involved in many social justice groups both on and off my campus. Off campus, I have assisted at citywide demonstrations against discriminatory housing policies, against forced and unfair labor in prisons, and in support of Black lives and liberation, and I have worked with the IWW to help the workers of local fast food chain Burgerville unionize. On campus, I have been very involved with the queer and feminist student unions, with Reedies Against Racism (a student group that aims to diversify and decolonize our college’s Humanities syllabus), and with 9SAM (a student group that fights for the human rights of prisoners in the USA).
I look forward to continuing my work with these organizations next year, to joining the new efforts and causes that will undoubtedly arise from our nation’s troubled political climate, and to working with MUUSJA in its fight for social justice. I have much to learn from the organizers of MUUSJA, their methods, and their experiences, and I have no doubt that the lessons I take from Minneapolis to Portland after this summer will help me become a better organizer in the work I will continue to do.