• Gianna

#50 "Rise Up"

Welcome to Grounds of Change #50! Today is all about Jeff Raz ( Jeff considered his teenage self to be quite the activist, but he was also quite the juggler. He has been a professional juggler since the age of 15 and after graduating, he dove into the performing world. He has been on stage, wrote plays and books, directed, taught, performed in Cirque du Soleil, founded the medical clown project to bring clowns to hospitals, AND continued to be an activist throughout his life. His story really resonated with me, and I hope it does the same for you!

Jeff’s high school was located right across from a police station in Berkeley, California. During his junior year, his school decided to engage the services of an undercover police officer, a large man dressed in a suit who carried around a basketball and a gun. The gentleman didn’t fit into the general fashion trends of California teenagers in the 70s, so he did not remain “undercover” for long. Having him in the school bothered Jeff and his friends, so they decided to do something about it. One evening this group of passionate teenagers brought their objections to the police review commission. Before they knew it, they were successful, and the officer was removed.

An undercover officer in the school was not the only thing that was stirring up the youth in Berkeley, California in the early seventies. Jeff describes it as a place where activism was the norm…not the exception. The Californian scene was all about the anti-Vietnam war, free speech, black power and the second feminist movement. It was a whole community of people with ambitious dreams and courage to stand up for the change they were seeking.

I asked Jeff what he would share if he had the opportunity to speak to all of the seventeen-year-olds in the world. I didn’t expect him to answer the way he did, and it put some things into perspective for me. He said he would explain that although activism was a norm in California, so was fear. As a teenager, he spent evenings watching the news broadcasting soldiers jumping out of airplanes during the war. The thought of nuclear war was pounding over them. There was hope, but the future was frightening. He then said that it was similar to our generation. We watch news of fellow high schoolers being killed by school shooters, and the thought of climate change is pounding over us. He shared with me that when he was a teenager, he needed to hear that we have a future and that things will be okay, so that is what he would tell us.

Jeff has watched people rise up and take on the terrifying circumstances around him since he was a teenager. He saw firsthand what believing in something can do - the police officer was removed from his school and the Vietnam war ended. He has spent years doing far more than clowning around. Jeff has spent his life standing up for what he believes. I think we can take what Jeff told us about his teenage years and know that things will be okay. Jeff knows that when people rise up, problems begin to fall. Maybe you want to fight for gun control or to save our planet. Whatever your heart desires, listen to it and become one of those people who stand up and make change. And also, we all do have a future, and everything will be okay, just like Jeff said. 

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