Individual Exploration to Collective Action

My Social Justice Journey

Author: Keegan Mills

I’m excited to welcome you to the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement Blog! This site was created as a space for the Center to share stories of social justice at work whether it be a student spotlight, an inspirational quote or the journey of someone on campus or in the community. We hope this can be a space where students can explore ideas around social justice and begin to see the various ways we encounter social justice issues throughout our lives and can take action.

I came to this work through my own experiences in working in the community while in college. But first, I’ll need to take you back to my own story, which is connected to why I do this work in education and the community. I grew up in poverty, with hand-me-down clothing and food stamps to purchase our weekly meals. I also grew up in a home of domestic violence surrounded by drugs and alcohol. When I was 15, I almost dropped out of high school from feeling such despair and hopelessness. I couldn’t see how I could get out of the world I was trapped in. Luckily, my aunt sat me down one day and told me that I had it in me to persevere, that dedicating my life to my education was the ticket to getting out. That day it clicked and I began to focus my time and energy on my education, aiming to go to college. I was granted enough financial aid and scholarship to attend a prestigious public university, the University of Florida, and had the opportunity to live in a house with 26 other women who came from similar financial backgrounds. This experience was transformational as I got to meet and live with a diverse group of women who shared their own stories of struggle and perseverance. One of my housemates encouraged me to volunteer during my spring break, and my sophomore year I traveled to a small, rural community in South Carolina to work with boys in a foster home. This trip sparked something in me that was always there but was hidden. It was the belief and feeling that I could be a contribution. I was able to connect with the foster youth and identify a shared struggle. While our backgrounds were very different, our struggles and setbacks were similar. It was then that I wanted to continue my work and inspire others to be engaged with the community, recognizing their own contribution to this world. From that point on, I interacted with many communities and did service work all over the country, meeting people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world. I now have the privilege to work with amazing students and create opportunities for them to see their own potential and that they too can be a contribution to this world, connecting individuals that wouldn’t otherwise have met.

I believe that social justice work is healing work. It’s healing the wounds that oppression has created in each of us, recognizing our own privilege and using that power to bring all voices to the table. I believe that social change is possible, but it’s up to each of us to commit to do the work, both the internal and external work. To me, social justice isn’t about going out into the community to say “Hey, I can help you!”, it’s about going in with a learner’s perspective, being curious about the issues that  particular community face, and taking a moment to look within to see how you individually are connected to a particular community, whether it be as an ally or as the oppressor. I have found that in exploring my own identity as a woman, I’ve been able to connect to what oppression look and feels like in other communities. This has helped me to have compassion, to recognize we have all faced struggles, and that through our individual struggles can come collective action. Changing the world can be a daunting task and it takes a village. But it is possible. One of my favorite quotes is,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

I truly believe in this quote and that we all have the ability to be a contribution, to give back, to demonstrate that change is possible. It first begins with ourselves, to look within and identify who we are, the complexity of our multiple identities and how those interface with the world around us. This is the very nature of the work in the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement at Holy Names University—to provide students the opportunity to explore the various aspects of their identities and how they can create positive social change by being an ally or a change agent. I feel very privileged to work with a profound group of students and staff who are committed to doing this work and being vulnerable through the process. I’m looking forward to seeing how you can contribute and be a part of this community!

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About Keegan Mills:

Keegan serves as the Director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement at Holy Names University. She is originally from South Florida and has had the opportunity to live all along the east coast, from Baltimore, MD, Newark, DE, Purchase, NY and now San Francisco, CA. She has been engaged with community work for the past 15 years and is an alumnus of the Americorps serving as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) in the Washington, D.C. Public Schools. In her free time, Keegan likes to hike, knit, and practice yoga. Stop by to say hello to her in Brennan 51!



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