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Be the Change N.J. Attends Clinton Global Initiative Event

Members of Be the Change N.J. at Clinton Global Institute - University. L-R are Darnell Felder, Fernanda Moura, Gabriela Hurtado and Khamayah McClain.

Kean students (L-R) Darnell Felder and Fernanda Moura; alumnus Gabriela Hurtada ; and student Khamaya McClain attended the Clinton Global Initiative - University conference in Chicago, as members of Be the Change N.J.

Members of a Kean-based advocacy group joined more than 1,000 other students at the Clinton Global Initiative - University (CGI-U) conference in Chicago this month and came back with renewed commitment to their work in ending violence and addressing homelessness.

Three students and a Kean alumna from Be the Change N.J. and the group’s advisor, Kean Professor Norma Bowe, Ph.D., took part in the conference hosted by President Bill Clinton, and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. It is the fourth year in a row that at least one Kean student group was invited to participate in CGI-U.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Fernanda Moura, a Kean senior psychology major, one of students who attended the conference. “All of the students come from different backgrounds both personally and academically, but the conference was a way we could all come together, share our ideas, and come up with ways we could all work together on inspiring change and better outcomes in our communities.”

Started in 2007 and modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative that brings together world leaders to solve global challenges, the conference was held at the University of Chicago. It assembled college students from around the world, along with faculty, topic experts and celebrities, to explore and develop solutions to challenges such as poverty, human rights and climate change.

Be the Change committed to furthering its efforts in two projects: the “Garden Project” that works to eradicate urban violence by building “peace gardens,” and the “Dream Big” project that provides leadership curriculum and mentoring to homeless girls in Elizabeth.

“CGIU is a very competitive conference — 10,000 projects apply and only 1,000 are chosen,” Bowe said. “The students have an opportunity to network with students from around the globe doing human rights, education, peace-building and sustainability projects.”

The Kean Office of Sponsored Research funded the group’s trip.

The students attended panels on topics from gun violence to the power of communication and debate in a civil society. In “skill sessions,” they learned how to grow ideas and projects to increase reach, productivity and impact. They also did hands-on service work — providing bagged lunches to nearly 300 Chicago homeless, volunteering at a homeless shelter, and visiting a firehouse.

“Our group accomplished so much by attending,” said Darnell Felder, a Kean graduate student pursuing a master’s in social work, who works on the Garden Project. “By speaking with our peers on their research projects, and their way of achieving their project goals, it rubbed off on the Be the Change team. We hope to use other peers’ strategies to help the projects grow in the near future.”

Gabriella Hurtado ’18, who graduated from Kean with a degree in sociology, was part of the Dream Big team. She said Be the Change is committed to continuing its work with the girls.

“It was such an incredibly inspiring experience,” she said of the conference. “To everyone here, change was not voluntary, it was necessary.”