Featured Fellows: Ash Arp and Chris Duarte

[asset|aid=742|format=image|formatter=asset|title=Ash Arp and Chris Duarte, Featured Fellows|width=240|height=219|align=right|resizable=true]After being targeted by death threats and hate speech, 2008 YP4 fellows Ash Arp (left) and Chris Duarte (right) teamed up to found Project DATE: Diversity Allies Team for Education.

Chris Duarte is a junior at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He is a double major in sociology and criminal justice, an honor student and the president of PRISM, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) center on campus.

Ash Arp is a sociology major at Northern Arizona University and the president’s assistant of PRISM.

What do you stand for?

ASH: I stand for equality for everyone no matter how they identify themselves — whether it’s something ingrained in them or something they personally identify as. I stand for the fact that everyone is equal and they should be treated as such.

CHRIS: I stand for a better society for all of us to live in. A society where no one has to live in fear and everyone educates one another […] I stand for seeing a better society where one day we won’t have to fight so hard […] A society where our children will remember what we have done this day and not take for granted the freedom they have, one day, in the future.

Tell me about your Blueprint for Social Justice.

CHRIS: After the hate crime happened… We had thoughts while we were in D.C. that we wanted to do something with education on campus, but we weren’t sure exactly how to do it. We thought about a youth community center with peer education, but we decided that was more in the future. Well, one of our friends…a straight ally, approached me and said "we need a safe space education program here on campus to educate people about hate against the LGBT community.”

Well there was already a safe space program that had been implemented, but it never took off... So I said, "You know, we need a program that is the university’s program — a diversity education program for everyone, all diversity groups and not just the LGBT community.” So we started Project DATE.

What’s been your biggest struggle as a progressive leader?

ASH: The biggest struggle I found is facing the fact that people aren’t always accepting of who you are or what you stand for... The biggest thing I’ve found is I have to break through those boundaries.

CHRIS: I have to say that the hardest thing for me is a lot of times I am not so afraid to stand up and voice my opinion. But my biggest struggle is fear. Fear not only for my safety — my safety’s been a concern lately what with the press release and being a voice in the community — but fear for... as I start my progressive action and start standing for things I believe in, I inspire others to act and I have to say that’s really a big strength. I get scared that every time one of my friends makes a stand, something might happen against them, whether it be a crime or a physical attack or a verbal attack, I feel somewhat responsible for that. But at the same time it’s a challenge I really have to work through and break through the fear.

I also forget to address my own concerns and my own life and put myself first — I neglect myself in a lot of ways because I feel so passionate about the things I’m working for that I forget to live in the moment as well.

How do you deal with that fear of inspiring people into places where they might be in danger?

CHRIS: My favorite book in the whole wide world is Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. On page 46 in the book, the teacher addresses the main character, Jess, and says, “Do you know how to change the world? You have to find out what you believe in, and then find others who believe the same way. The only thing you have to do alone is find out what’s important to you.”

I found out what was really important to me. As I do more work I realize that people jump on the bandwagon every day. I’m leading the way. Where I once felt so alone for so long, so isolated and scared for myself, now there are so many other people who stand with me and so strong. If something happens to someone like what happened to Ash and Laura, we all stood together and turned it into something positive, something for education and change. Something that we could have feared and ran from, we all stood together and we grow every day.

What’ve been your biggest successes as an organization?

CHRIS: Our biggest success has been reaching out to isolated individuals. One of my greatest friends, a person whose been a big inspiration to me, came to me and said, “Chris, it’s not the cause your fighting for, it’s the people. There will always be a cause to fight for, but it’s the people that are really important and it’s the people that drive the cause.” So I’ve lived by that code, and I encourage others within the organization to do the same. Yeah, we’ll have events. We’ll fail. We won’t bring in enough money or there are those who are apathetic to the cause. However, there are those few who we are helping every day. Those are the few that make it worth it, that make it worth the fight every day and make the organization worth having.

ASH: I really enjoy seeing the fact that there are so many people coming out of the woodwork. That are like, “You know, I was afraid to come out, but now I can because I know there are people there for me.” We’re family; we stand with each other and for each other. If someone doesn’t have the strength to do it on their own, they have their sisters and their brothers and their friends and their family who can be there for them... that is the biggest success I could ask for.

How would you like to see the progressive movement change for the future?

ASH: I think that if everyone was to band together and grab ahold of each other and not just go for their sole issues that they feel are the most important and realize that in order to get one thing done other things got to get done as well. We need to realize that one issue isn’t the only issue out there. Even within the progressive movement many people are so divided. They’re saying, “My issue is more important!” “No, mine is!” “No, mine!” If we were to come together and say let’s change society as a whole — we’ll do these things first and then we’ll do these equally important issues, but ones that need that background laid first.

CHRIS: We are so consumed by the issues... I feel that young progressives are more solution-based; they say “we can do this, and this and this.” While a lot of people who have been dealing with the issues for so long get consumed by them and then don’t know where to begin and become overwhelmed. Yeah, it takes all of us coming together and realizing that our differences are what make us unique and beautiful. It’s the little things that people can do. It’s not the organizations that do things, it’s the people.

It’s when someone hears a slur, racial or having to do with the LGBT community and they say, ”Hey, that makes me feel uncomfortable, can you not say that.” It’s stopping it right there when it happens. And not feeling like they have to be afraid to stand.

What’s a strategy you’ve found that works?

ASH: Motivation has worked. Getting people motivated by explaining to them what’s going on and why it’s important for them. One of the terms we use a lot is “inspiring the heart.” You have to inspire people to do what is right. You have to be able to inspire and show them that this is how you make a difference. But also, make your own ideas and your own thoughts on how to make change. Inspiring people no matter who they are or what they stand for, because without the inspiration there’s no drive to do anything about it.

How do you inspire and how do you funnel that inspiration into action?

ASH: The best way to inspire is to show them what’s really going on and not leave any information out. Then you explain what can be done and ways they can do it, by themselves or with a group of friends. Get them on board with the cause, because they know its right. The easiest way that I think to actually funnel people is to get them and have events or whatever, but inspire more and make them truly want to do something about it.

CHRIS: There are two kinds of activists in the world, and two examples of those activists would be Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK inspired the hearts of many and he did so with love and talking and standing up, by saying, “We cannot fight violence with violence.” He’s quoted from his last speech under the Washington Monument saying “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” If we use the same violence we’re faced with, we’ll just fight forever. We’ll die off and leave no one to stand up for us. His mission was to educate and to educate those people who would lead the way after his life was gone. Although his life was taken short, his words last in the hearts of millions today.

Malcom X, on the other hand, was an awesome progressive leader. But oftentimes he fought not with violence but with loud words, picketing and drawing attention to the situation. I think that with this day and age and today’s progressive movement you have to take a marginal view between the two. I would say educate, but when people aren’t willing to listen that’s when you have to get their attention — doing things, stating things, writing things down or expressing myself, by allowing my passion to come through and inspiring people to say what really hurts them — it gets people angry, it gets their attention, and when they really want to act out then go ahead and say, “Don’t lash out against them, because hate just fuels fire.” We need to act all together and educate and that’s when people are willing to listen. I think that’s why the civil rights movement happened, because there were people on both sides saying “We need to educate” and “We need their attention.

What inspired you both to apply for the YP4 fellowship?

CHRIS: I didn’t even know about [YP4].... We were having an exec board meeting for PRISM and Renata, our advisor, came in and said that she had been notified about a fellowship and had nominated the whole exec board. So I checked it out, but it was past the deadline, but Renata thought it might be okay [to apply anyway]. So I did it, and I told Ash that she should definitely [apply] and that it seemed like it could be pretty cool. It was more that I was looking forward to going to the Summit and getting more education about how to implement ideas that I had.

ASH: When I looked at it, I thought it was really cool but I was worried that I wouldn’t get in. I didn’t have much leadership experience and I was like, “Hmm, well, maybe.” Chris really just bribed me to apply; he told me that even if I didn’t get it, at least I [would have] tried. I was like, “Okay.” After I applied and consciously looked and saw that it was part of PFAW. So I called my aunt and she said she was a member of PFAW. She hadn’t heard of YP4 but said PFAW was great and thought it would be a good experience. I was like, “Yeah, if I get it.”

What has stood out for you about the program so far?

ASH: For me it was the fact that there are so many progressive leaders. They’re all there, and they all want what we want: to make the world a better place. The staff has been wonderful with helping us do things with our Blueprints, getting us the information and resources to do what we wanted to do already. Just giving us the opportunity to make a difference.

CHRIS: I didn’t necessarily learn a lot about how to build a Blueprint or do progressive actions or anything like that. Young leaders need that to get started. I already knew how to get things started, believed and lived in it every day. But what really got me was — I told my partner this last night — that in Flagstaff and in this LGBT community, I already had the passion, but I sparked that passion in other people and now I have other people with me who have passion too. But going to the Summit... meeting 198 other fellows who also had passion already, who I didn’t have to inspire or educate about anything because they already knew the issues. They’d already been living the issues every day, and hearing their stories really inspired me to believe in myself and know that I was doing the right thing and to come back — when I went there I was burnt out, I had been doing too many events and I needed a vacation — but going to the Summit sparked my passion all over again; I felt like I could conquer the world.

ASH: Yeah, when Chris and I got back, we were so completely excited. We knew we needed to get this done and this done and it wasn’t draining us anymore, it was building us up.

What’s next for you guys?

CHRIS: [Laughs] I have had a profound 15 hours and I was asking myself for the last few weeks, “What’s next?” “What do I do next?” “What now?” “Who do I need to talk to?” “Get the e-mail done,” this and that.

It was constant, constant, constant and last night, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Y’know, I have been fighting for so many people who don’t have a voice, to give them strength, to give them a voice — and one of my best friends said to me, “Y’know, Chris, I didn’t have the strength to make a stand on my own, and now I feel that I do.”

I work so hard to teach everyone how to implement the things that need to be done. Now there are enough people to take those committees and take those events all on their own. They don’t need me anymore.

So I’ve been confused, and I’ve been talking to professors, I talked to the director of grad admissions at NAU and she said, “You know, you’re a shoo-in for any program that you want, but y’know, don’t stay here and use this campus and these people as your security blanket and be afraid to move on.”

It really freaked me out. I was offered an internship in Alaska that doesn’t have anything to do with progressive action but would give me the money to fight for the cause that got me started on this whole thing, and that is my daughter. I have a five-year-old — who will be six in June — that I haven’t seen in three years because a judge in a narrow-minded county told me to my face that no lesbian has a right to raise a child. I have lived with those thoughts every day for the last three years and haven’t been able to act for my own cause, for my own sake, for that one person who doesn’t have a voice — my daughter. I haven’t acted for her because I’ve been too afraid to stand alone. But now I know that I don’t stand alone. This fight that I’m about to embark on is just as progressive as everything else that I do. It’s not the cause, it’s the people. What matters most is my daughter who doesn’t have a voice. I’m probably going to take the internship and start fighting to get my daughter back and accessing as much as possible the resources that I’ve found in the last three years to go ahead for her. So that’s what is next for me.

ASH: Working as hard as I can to get this program started and fully implemented on campus. Also to fill higher leadership positions and help other people learn to make a difference. A lot of that I’m learning from Chris and everything I’ve experienced in the last seven months.

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