We live in an age of social consciousness. Now, more than ever, we as a society are collectively aware of the problems we face, of injustices that demand action.
Technology has not only made it easier for us to share information, it has also empowered us to take action.
My entire career has been focused on social impact. Whether it’s international development, or helping families of seriously ill children, or supporting veterans; I’ve either worked inside or alongside almost every type of organization. I’ve seen it all—or at least I thought I had.
Until recently, that is, when I heard the story of Andrea Hearting.
The power of one story
Andrea is a beautiful young woman, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, who spent her early years on the Lower Brule reservation in South Dakota. When I first heard Andrea’s story, filled with tragedy—but also brimming with hope—I have to admit I was taken aback.
You see, I grew up in South Dakota, not far from where Andrea did. As a child, “the reservation” was an ominous place. We didn’t talk about it much, and we did our best to avoid it. Unless, of course, we could shave an hour or two off a road trip by passing through.
I realize now that I never really understood what life was like for thousands of Native Americans living so close to me. All I knew is what I had heard—they were poor, and many were alcoholics. But that’s about it.
I consider myself socially informed, but somehow the devastating reality of Native American life had slipped past me. I thought I knew, but I had no idea.
Listening to Andrea, I realized that there is so much more than meets the eye. It’s a reality that few people want to acknowledge. It’s too tragic, too unthinkable, that this could be happening right in our backyard.
The truth can be ugly and unsettling, but it needs to be told. Issues need to be addressed. And most importantly, real people desperately need help. Read these alarming statistics.
Andrea grew up in an environment where kids are neglected and left to fend for themselves. Children care for children, while many adults spend their days drunk or high. It’s a place where meth use is commonplace. Where teen suicide is an epidemic. Where animals are not only mistreated, but sometimes even sexually assaulted. Where food stamps and commodities are traded for drugs, alcohol, even sexual favors.
Andrea personally experienced the horrors of sexual and domestic abuse. She witnessed her childhood friends and cousins endure the effects of molestation and rape, with seemingly no way out. On the reservation, violence against women is just part of life. Andrea knows the physical and emotional pain from the beatings she suffered at the hands of young men.
Tragically, the agony Andrea endured as a child and teenager is not unique. The painful reality of life on the reservation has taken a toll on the lives of countless young Native Americans.
It starts with hope
Thankfully, Andrea’s story took an unexpected turn. Despite overwhelming circumstances, she clung to hope for a better future and found the courage to define herself differently. As a young woman of 21, she has opted out of the cycle of destruction. Andrea has decided not to settle for the status quo, mustering the bravery to stand up against the injustices and make a difference in her culture.
For South Dakota’s Native American population, there are many issues that need to be addressed: poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, teen suicide, sexual abuse, violence, lack of quality education, and job training—just to name a few. These are all valid and worthy of attention. But where to start?
Approach an average little girl on the reservation and ask her about her dreams, what she wants to do and be when she grows up. You might be surprised that she has very little to say. That's because life on the reservation has stolen her most valuable treasure—her hope.
Stand with Native Hope
Native Hope, as the name suggests, believes that hope is at the foundation of real change. Hope opens the door to possibility and dreams—to flourish. If we are going to see changes in the culture, it’s going to start with hope.
I stand with Native Hope because I believe that Native young people deserve to be able to dream about what’s possible, just like every other young American. Just like you and I did. Just like Andrea.
Please join me in supporting this important cause.