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The Power of Words

Last night, I gave a speech at an event called Q Union, along with students Cade Deister and Hannah Siebold, about “The Power of Words.” Here is the abbreviated version.

Back in the first grade, I had a friend named Lydia. She was one of the sweetest and kindest girls I had ever met, and I felt lucky to be her friend. We did everything together at school. We sat by each other in class, ate lunch together, played together during recess, and I even went to her house a few times. 

So when she found a new friend, I was upset. I remember wondering, “How could she just abandon me like that?” My melodramatic little girl ego quickly kicked in. Did anyone want to be my friend? I became jealous of her new friend and incredibly sad about my newfound loneliness. A few weeks later, Lydia and her mom stopped by my house. When I saw her at the door, I shut down. 

I refused to speak and hid behind my mom the entire time. This was uncharacteristic for me, but I was deeply hurt and felt like she deserved the silent treatment. They stayed for a few minutes and because of my stubbornness, my mom apologized to Lydia and her mother. I, however, did not say a single word.

I knew Lydia was sick, but I did not comprehend how sick she was. Every time I got sick, I was better in a week. This was not the case for my friend. She had leukemia and died about a month after visiting my house. She was coming to say goodbye to me. Forever. I had entirely forgotten about this story until last year when my mother mentioned her to me. Once she did, the memories of that day came flooding back. 

I had blocked the entire experience from my head because for a first grader, it was too difficult to think about. Saying nothing to Lydia spoke volumes, and if this experience has taught me anything, it is that silence is more dangerous than we realize. It is so easy to remain silent, especially when our voice can make a statement. 

It was easier for me to say nothing to Lydia rather than to either tell her how I really felt or to do the right thing and be nice. It is easier for us to remain silent when ugly comments and gossiping break out rather than to ask the perpetrator to stop. It is easier to remain silent when a close friend or family member makes a racist comment because maybe you do not want to get into a heated discussion that day, and you wonder if saying something would even be worth it. So instead, you let that comment roll by as if nothing ever happened. I get it. I have been there. 

But speaking the truth is always worth it. Many times, defeating ignorance is often only a conversation away. When it comes to discrimination of any kind, offering another perspective is imperative, and I would say it is our responsibility as global citizens and as members of God’s kingdom to speak truth in these opportunities God gives us. 

Last year, I took an opportunity to speak my truth on our campus. Yesterday marks the one year anniversary of my opinion article entitled “Almost every Oklahoma Christian professor is white” being published. I did want people to read the article, no one ever read my articles except my mom. The next morning, I woke up to more notifications than I have ever had in my life. I was getting emails and texts and a plethora of Twitter notifications. 90% of the comments were positive. The other 10%? They were awful. 

But I do not hold anything against the people who made these comments. In fact, I truly wish the best for everyone who contributed to this discussion. Because of the people who talked about and commented on this particular issue, we have a new African American studies program and a minority professor, Dr. Robert Edison, on campus. For this, I am eternally grateful. 

Researchers say it takes nine positive comments to offset one negative one. I can 100% attest to this. For the weeks following the unexpected feedback, while most people were saying kind words to me about the article, I was having a really difficult time dealing with the negative comments. 

I found myself reading them over and over again. It was so easy to fixate on them, and honestly, it made me nervous to speak my mind. But I did not stop writing, and I never will. Through writing about race, the environment, politics and other “controversial topics,” I have found my words have the power to promote change and start conversations. The topics which make people immensely uncomfortable are usually the ones needing to be addressed the most. 

I believe in the power of words. I dedicated my major to it. But you do not have to dedicate your career to writing to have a powerful impact in your circle, the people in this community and around the world. In case you did not realize it, you are important. Your words are important. People are watching. People are listening. Choose wisely.

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