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What it takes to change the world

Who would think that I would end up in Grand Rapids, Michigan – and connect so deeply with the students? I had a truly incredible time speaking with students at GVSU about how each and every one of us has what it takes to change the world! Read, share, and learn how you too can take a stand and make positive change. 

GVL/ Hannah Zajac- Erin Schrode, a citizen activist and social entrepreneur, speaks about environmental action, public health, and equal justice to a group of students in the Mary Idema Pew Library on Monday, April 3, 2017.

by Dylan Grosser

Changing the world is a lot of work. People have done it in the past—in good ways and in bad—but regardless of what they did or how they did it, it usually took a lot of effort, time and money.

Many people have significantly impacted the world around them, but few have done so as early as 13 years old, as Erin Schrode did.

Schrode is the founder of the organization Turning Green; a previous consultant for Apple, IKEA, Nestlé, Chipotle Mexican Grill and the U.S. Department of State; a social justice and environmental activist; and a former Democratic candidate for the 2016 U.S. House of Representatives election.

Schrode was invited to Grand Valley State University Monday, April 3, by the GVSU chapter of Hillel to speak to a variety of students about how they could change the world.

“I wanted people to walk away with the belief that they have the power to effect change,” Schrode said.

Her presentation covered many aspects of her life, including her message about sustainability and the environment, her run for public office, her experiences in traveling around the country, the causes she’s dedicated herself to and her Jewish faith.

She began speaking about when she was young and starting to understand the various issues in the world, including one in particular that affected the community she was born into.

Growing up, Schrode was very aware of the breast cancer epidemic erupting in her hometown of Marin County, California. Schrode was 13 when her mother began a large-scale grassroots campaign to demand answers as to why Marin County women had the highest breast cancer levels out of any other place on Earth. Watching her mother fight for this particular cause and watching her transform their living room into campaign headquarters inspired her to be an activist for many causes, starting with the environment.

She went on to found Turning Green at age 13 with her mother, which started as a way to promote healthier cosmetic products versus non-eco-friendly products, thought to be one of the causes of the cancer cluster. Soon the campaign snowballed into an organization tackling many aspects of ecologically conscious living, from food to lifestyle to fashion.

Later in her life at 24, Schrode would go on to challenge incumbent Democrat Jared Huffman for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in California’s 2nd District in 2016. She was the youngest woman to ever run for Congress, and although she lost, she received 20,998 votes after declaring her bid for Huffman’s seat only 70 days before the election.

Schrode’s message involved inspiring young people to be ambitious and to get involved in life-changing experiences. She said young people are the change-makers in the world, and if the Founding Fathers were around today, they would be millennials.

“Young people are the hope,” Schrode said. “Young people are the future. Young people are actually the change-makers. Think about those who have fundamentally changed the course of history—they're young people.”

During her run for public office, Schrode received many anti-Semitic messages, some of which were death threats. Schrode talked about the importance of being true to oneself in the midst of adversity.

“There's this arbitrary vitriol thrown my way because of something I can't change,” Schrode said.

Gabby Lowenthal, a sophomore at GVSU and an intern at Hillel, met Schrode in Chicago during a Hillel conference. Hillel is an international Jewish organization for college campuses. Lowenthal said she connected with Schrode and her message and asked to her to come speak to GVSU students.

“She's like the big sister you've never had,” Lowenthal said. “She's an adviser, she's an innovator, she's an inspiration. She's this young adult who is the perfect role model in the sense that she never took ‘no’ for an answer.”

Lowenthal said she considers Schrode to be the perfect role model and will invite her to come back to GVSU soon.


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