Help Sam Pay For Harvard!
Organized by: David McElhatton
Three days left & a thank you video from Sam!
August 12, 2016
EVENT DATE Aug 15, 2016
Dear friends and community,
Sam was recently accepted to Harvard Divinity School! We are so excited for her to pursue this path after nearly a decade of organizing and serving as a lawyer for the LGBTQ community and other social justice movements.
Sam’s tuition is partially funded but they still need to cover $5000 in tuition as well as rent and other monthly living expenses, books, health insurance, and food. Sam intends to get a job as quickly as possible in Boston but needs your support to cover basic needs in the meantime and get the rest of their tuition in by August 15th.
Sam has given so much to build movements and fight for justice. We hope you, Sam’s community, will give back to her. Please donate as you are able, share this page, and send Sam love and encouragement!
David McElhatton & Peter Dakota Molof
PS: We’ve included an excerpt from Sam’s application to Harvard below so you can hear the significance of this next step directly from them.
On the way home from the hospital where I was born, my mother passed a church. A lifelong agnostic—but also a lifelong singer—she came to a stop in an intersection just adjacent to its open doors. She nearly drove by, as she had done probably thousands of times before, but she stopped when she heard the singing. At the time, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City had one of the best choirs in the Los Angeles area. Though I’ve heard this story dozens of times, she has never been able to fully articulate how the music called to her that day. But what I do know is that it changed the course of my life.
I grew up in that church, and, as a teenager, I spent my weekends with the Young Religious Unitarian Universalists. I quickly rose to leadership in my congregation, district, and General Assembly. When I wasn’t serving as a dean or chair, I was nearly always assigned the role of chaplain. I soon discovered I was deeply fulfilled by holding space for people in crisis. I also, unfortunately, developed a reputation for being the one people sought out when they needed to talk about something they knew would require reporting to social services. Still just a kid myself, I found myself sending my peers into a system I had no control over, one from which they rarely emerged unscathed. By sixteen, I already knew what it was to feel powerless over the suffering of my community.
So I went to college, hoping to get closer the source of that suffering by studying psychology and becoming one of the social workers who took over where I had been forced to leave off. But I quickly found out that the average social worker’s hands are nearly as tied as those of a well-meaning kid at a church event. Heartbroken, I retreated into my first love, theatre, but, even there, I couldn’t seem to shake the chaplain role. As a stage manager, I was still the first call when something went wrong, from a broken leg to a slit wrist. I watched the famously queer artists who made up my chosen family beaten outside my house, lose partners to AIDS without any legal rights, and, finally, have their remaining dignity stripped by a majority of California voters. And, again, I felt powerless to heal the suffering of my community.
So I went into the streets, hoping to get closer to the source of that suffering by marching against institutional injustice. We marched on City Hall; we marched in the center of our state; we marched 100 miles to the Capitol, sleeping in churches and breaking bread with the very communities that had voted against our rights. I helped organize mass mobilizations and trained activists on how to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience safely and ethically. And I quickly learned the impact of a faith leader’s presence on the violence that erupted out of squad cars. I learned how differently police treat people with skin like mine in custody than people of color. I learned how heartbreakingly predictable it is that transgender and gender nonconforming defendants will be dehumanized inside the legal system. And still, I felt powerless to heal the suffering of my community.
So I went to law school, hoping to get closer the source of that suffering by changing the institutions that perpetuate it. While I studied, I continued organizing with the National Equality March, GetEqual, and local grassroots groups working for justice. My activities eventually earned the ire of right wing organizations. The last semester of my law school career, the controversy reached a pitch so fevered that the administration instructed me stay home rather than sitting for my final few exams. I still managed to graduate with honors, but my professors would be the first to tell you that my time there had always been about more than the law. My singular focus was how to use its power to heal the suffering of my community.
So I went to work, hoping to get closer to the source of that suffering by climbing the branches of government. I was hired straight out of school to work on the litigation team arguing the first cases in the Ninth Circuit challenging conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The survivors of these deadly practices had never before been willing to trust a national organization, and it felt critical to me to prioritize their resilience in ways the legal profession never had. I began building our scattered strategies into a comprehensive political campaign, using not only legislation, litigation, and public education, but a trauma-informed, research-based model of advocacy grounded in empowerment and healing. Sometimes it meant arguing with the lawyers who had been my childhood heroes for the strategy we knew would be less effective but more ethical, and sometimes it meant being the midnight call when a survivor was in crisis. But it worked like nothing we had ever seen.
This side project eventually become the BornPerfect Campaign, which in turn became my full-time job. Before long, I was organizing coalitions in eighteen states, ghost writing for the highest offices in the country, and testifying at the United Nations in Geneva. I celebrated the first anniversary of the campaign in the East Wing of the White House, watching Barack Obama become the first President in history to come out against conversion therapy. It was everything I had ever wanted to do with a law degree—use the privilege it afforded to lift up those who don’t have that access, and win bigger than politics as usual ever could have. But every time I got another call from the hospital, every time I lost another survivor to substance abuse, every time I read another suicide note, I was reminded how much more complex healing the suffering of my community was than any one victory, or any one person.
On the day I finally stopped fighting ministry, I passed a church. A non-native in a small Costa Rican town, I couldn’t understand much of the music flowing from its open doors. But I know a call when I hear one. A lifelong empath, I’ve spent years trying to answer it by reaching for the source of suffering, hoping to find the power to heal it. But, the closer I get to power, the less certain I become that it holds the key to either suffering or healing. The more time I spend fighting injustice, the more convinced I am that its roots lie in the fracture of the soul, and its remedy in communion. To be honest, I’d be lying if tried to articulate what my ministry will look like. I can’t promise that it will take the form of a parish, or chaplaincy, or advocacy, or one of the emerging models shaking up the denomination. But what I do know is that I’m looking for an education in how to do what comes naturally to me in a responsible, sustainable way. What I know is that I want to serve a kind of social change that strikes at the roots of suffering. What I know is that I’ve been hearing this call since the day I was born. After twenty nine years trying to heal it, I’m finally ready to answer.