Louder than Words: Rutgers–Camden Student Earns Scholarship for Social Activism

Pictured (far right) is Lauren Carlbon with fellow scholarship winners Stephanie Rivera and Giancarlo Tello

Pictured (far right) is Lauren Carlbon with fellow scholarship winners Stephanie Rivera and Giancarlo Tello

As Lauren Carlbon recalls, growing up in her household, social- and environmental-justice issues were often a part of casual dinner conversation. Her first experience with activism came as the result of her parents’ involvement with a citizen-led effort to prevent the City Council of Ocean City, N.J., from using rainforest wood on the boardwalk, pushing for recycled plastic as an alternative. While she was admittedly too young to comprehend the issue, Carlbon remembers the solace, strength and camaraderie of the activists that emerged out of a common purpose. “I now seek to create that same sense of community and common resolve in any group in which I participate,” she says.

Dedicated to taking action on others’ behalf, Carlbon, a senior psychology major at Rutgers–Camden, is the recipient of the 2013 Wells H. Keddie Scholarship in the amount of $1,500. The scholarship, named in the honor of the late Keddie, a labor studies professor and former president of the Rutgers faculty union, is awarded to Rutgers undergraduate students who combine solid scholarship with social activism.

“I am sincerely honored to be recognized with this award,” says Carlbon, a resident of Bordentown. “Wells H. Keddie is a giant on whose shoulders I am proud to stand.”

Carlbon earned the award in part for her role serving as South Jersey coordinator for the 12th Annual Walk for a New Spring. The global peace initiative aims to end nuclear disarmament and to bring awareness to the dangers of the nuclear industry.

Lauren Carlbon (far right) during the 12th Annual Walk for a New Spring

Lauren Carlbon (far right) during the 12th Annual Walk for a New Spring

The walk began on March 17 in Toms River, traveled to the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Forked River, continued through Little Egg Harbor, Pomona, and Atlantic City, and took a day of rest on March 21 in Ocean City. The following day, the walk continued to Salem, where the walkers held a vigil at the Salem Nuclear Power plant, and completed the South Jersey portion of the walk in Camden on March 23. On the morning of March 24, the walkers continued their journey across the Ben Franklin Bridge and into Pennsylvania, averaging a distance of 10 to 15 miles per day. In addition to ensuring safe walking routes, Carlbon reached out to members of each community to find lodging and organize potluck meals.

“The truth is that any organizing endeavor requires extensive amounts of collaboration, and I was very fortunate to be able to reach out to peace activists within the South Jersey community for assistance,” says Carlbon, a member of the Urban Studies program at Rutgers–Camden. “Within each of these communities, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the arrival of the peace walk.”

According to Carlbon, she has now participated in five peace walks on various social and environmental issues, each one inspiring reflection and action as a means to foster growth, compassion and understanding.  “During each peace walk, a poignant light is shed on the many miracles and atrocities that exist in this world,” she says. “It inspires a unique feeling of responsibility to the planet and to humanity as a whole.”

Carlbon recalls that her first experience participating in an organized effort was nothing short of serendipitous. Last summer, she decided to join the No More Fukushimas Peace Walk, a month-long walk that began in early July and traveled around Lake Ontario, bringing the story of Fukushima as a warning to the various nuclear power sites on both sides of the border. Upon arriving on the day before the walk began, she was politely asked by a Japanese nun, Jun-san Yasuda, if she wouldn’t mind carrying the “walk cellphone.” Although they had only met once before, Yasuda spoke broken English and said she’d feel more comfortable if a person more fluent in English was handling phone calls. Carlbon agreed, not realizing that she would use the cellphone every day for the next month to secure lodging, organize potluck meals, field calls of interest and respond to media inquiries – all while trying to stay under 1,400 minutes.

Looking back on the experience now, Carlbon says that the walk took place during one of the most trying, definitive points of her life. Jun-san’s trust had tapped in her an inner strength and resourcefulness that she never even knew she possessed, she says. “I took away far more from that experience than I could ever give back,” she says.

carlbon-featureToday, Carlbon continues to be moved to action by the plight of those who need action taken on their behalf. She maintains that too many people don’t respond to social and environmental ills because they believe that their efforts are in vain. “That’s the worst lie that people have been told and we repeat it to ourselves, over and over again, for our entire lives,” she says. “Our potential is our power, and we squander it on a daily basis because we believe the lie that we can’t do any better. I don’t believe that I can influence any change by myself, but I do believe that, if we unite and tap into our potential and manifest our power, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Carlbon adds that earning the Wells H. Keddie scholarship has further inspired her to dedicate herself passionately to causes, just as Keddie did. “He fought to make an extraordinary difference in otherwise ordinary lives,” she says. “His commitment to the wellbeing of his fellow man speaks volumes about his character, and this is an attribute I strive to emulate in my work.”

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