Helen Zia enforces idea “social change and progress is not a sprint”

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By: Kearstein Johnson, Contributing Writer

Photo by Brendan Felch/ The Towerlight

Social progress is not a new fight, nor is it a quick one, according to activist, journalist, and author Helen Zia.

“Social change and progress is not a sprint,” Zia said. “It is a marathon. You may want to run full speed, but you just can’t. Change and progress does not move parallel together. Your lifetime has been living in a world with endless chaos and division.”

Zia spoke at Towson University on Nov. 7, telling her accounts of being involved in social movements and fighting for Asian-American and LGBTQ+ rights.

Zia got her inspiration early in life from the civil rights and women’s rights movements.

“A lot of students at that time felt strongly about the war and civil rights,” she said. “It was a mass movement and I just kept going from there.”

Ever since her start in those early days of social movements, Zia has kept standing up for civil rights.

“One of my proudest moments had to be my involvement in the Vincent Chin case,” she said. “I was one of the people to help get the movement going. We needed to speak up. It became a national movement.”

Slow-moving as the fight for change may be, Zia emphasized the need for more activists to speak out and stand up  for what they believe in.

“There have been times where things have been pretty grim,” she said. “When are we ever going to stand up for human decency again? History does not move in a straight line, it moves in a zigzag way; however, things go missing in history.”

When those factors go missing, that is when problems and chaos comes and leads to the social problems we are facing today, according to Zia.

Zia said that we are “fighting for a world where everyone is given dignity,” and that “we are in a point in history where things are moving from one crisis to another.”

She told the audience that since the beginning of our generation, there has not been a time where there was not a war happening in this country.

Zia urged people to reflect on how they view their own and others’ identities, and not to limit those identities with stereotypes.

“Building unity starts with understanding each other…. None of us are just one check box. We all have different identities that make ourselves us,” Zia said. “We have to own our ignorance towards ourselves and others. Do you really want to be a one-dimensional stereotype?”

Student Kathryn Pickard agreed with Zia about the importance of learning about the world beyond our personal bubbles.

“There has been a lot going on in the news and it’s important to be educated in all of it,” Pickard said.

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