April 16, 2010

When and Why I'm Silent

Maybe writing a blog post is an unconventional way to start my Day of Silence. But I had some thoughts about today I wanted to share.

Some of you may know that my favorite quote--a quote which truly changed my life--is by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." When it came time to apply to college, it likely comes as no surprise to those of you who know me that I chose the option to "create your own prompt" (I am, after all, the girl who applied for Program II).

Inspired by this quote, aware of the role it played in changing my perspective, and convinced it articulated my passion and forthright manner, I wrote that it was "the motto by which I aim to live my life." A line in my essay said something about how "For someone who is not afraid of death or dying, I'm awfully afraid of my life ending, at least as Martin Luther King defined it." I gave some examples of things I'm passionate about (Title IX; Girls for A Change) and things I speak up against (hate speech; an experience in Israel) before I concluded by writing that "When people don’t speak up about everyday inequities, regardless if it is they or others who are affected, it is dangerous and harmful to our society. That is what MLK meant. Our lives become polluted with injustices if nobody speaks out—if everybody is silent...That is why I can’t be silent. Not now. Not ever." [Thanks, Mom, for finding my essay on the computer at home!]

And yet, today, for the fourth consecutive year, dating back to my junior year in high school, I will participate in the National Day of Silence. [An aside: My first year, I was the only person I knew participating. As a senior in high school many more people took part (a trend for which I do not take credit). Coming here, though, from never having a community that participated, is really empowering and inspiring.] Surely, being silent today is not equal to being silent at other times in my life. After all, today is a day of not talking, not really a day of "silence." But there are still some weird opposing forces at play. Some LGBTQA advocates don't agree with the Day of Silence. Personally, it made me recall MLK's quote and my essay and about the seemingly contradictory messages, which are really not contradictory at all.

I hope the Duke admissions officer who read my application won't mind if I go back on those last three short sentences. For, today, I will be silent.

I’m silent because I respect you. I’m silent because you shouldn’t have to be. I’m silent because your silence goes unnoticed and I’m silent to make your silence heard.

I’m silent to speak up against the bullying I’ve witnessed. I’m silent because I care. I’m silent because you deserve respect. I’m silent for your right to be you. I’m silent because you’re silenced every day.

I’m silent because you are my friend, my family, my classmate, my peer, my teammate, my mentor, my role model, my co-worker, my neighbor—a member of my community. I’m silent because I cherish you. I’m silent because I love you.

I’m silent because your fight is my fight; because your pain is my pain. I’m silent for change. I’m silent for progress. I’m silent for equality and I’m silent so there will be justice.


  1. Risa, this is beautiful. What an amazing way to kick of our Day of Silence!

  2. Risa, this is beautiful. What an amazing way to kick of our Day of Silence!

  3. Thank you for your very personal and moving words...made me cry first thing this morning (in the good way) :) You are inspiring! I hope you don't mind that I'm going to send/forward/post this...

  4. great post, Ris. I'm especially inspired and driven by the last stanza... "your fight is my fight."

  5. Thank you for your silence, Risa. The pain of silence is a killer. Your silence is healing and activism in its best sense

  6. Your reasons for being silent are absolutely beautiful. you're incredible! =)

  7. You inspired me to address DOS with my high school students. Four of them actually had the cards, thus providing an opening. We concluded with volunteers reading each of the four "I'm silent" paragraphs from the Elmo (new-fangeled overhead)---those various voices in the semi-dark classroom was moving. Can you imagine a 9th-grade girl keeping silent ALL day? It happened in my school today---my last miracle---time to retire;)