From Service to Commitments

By Robin Shear

From Service to Commitments

By Robin Shear
The CGI U event at UM ended with a service day and more than 700 student Commitments to Action.

The Clinton Global Initiative University wrapped up Sunday with the Clinton Foundation Day of Action, partnering with the Miami Children’s Initiative on improvement projects at the Charles R. Drew K-8 Center and the surrounding neighborhood in Liberty City.

Former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, led the service day, which included painting and urban agriculture projects, playground revitalizations, and other work.

The eighth annual CGI U convened Friday at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami, attended by more than 1,000 students from more than 300 schools from around the world.

The closing plenary session Saturday night featured a trio of Clintons, a late-night host, an internationally known physician, and members of the group Pussy Riot.

Chelsea Clinton kicked things off by announcing results of three different competitions. UM students were well represented. USolar, a proposal by Sam Peurifoy, ‘16, was among 23 Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge winners, and freshman Joshua Beauplan was on the winning CGI U Codeathon team that created the MathMagic Web platform.

Hillary Rodham Clinton earned the evening’s first rock star-style reception. Students cheered and leapt to their feet as the former Secretary of State and New York Senator joined her daughter on stage. The duo discussed gender equality and previewed Monday’s official release of the No Ceilings Full Participation Report by the Clinton Foundation and Gates Foundation.

The global data project, explained self-proclaimed “data nerd” Chelsea Clinton, is a valuable research tool with “almost a million unique data points” that provides both snapshots and deep analyses of the progress women and girls have made in a variety of areas during the past 20 years.

“We hope you all will interact with the data and use it to inform your work,” she said. “All of the work we do has a gender component to it.”

“We’ve really created this for young people to spur you to action,” added Hillary Clinton. “There are still too many countries now in the 21st century that legally restrict women’s freedom of movement, or legally prohibit them from holding a vast array of different kinds of jobs.”

In addition to falling on the eve of International Women’s Day, the Closing Plenary took place on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when armed officers attacked peaceful civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to march to the state capital of Montgomery.

“You can see how progress is made by looking at what happened this weekend in Selma, Alabama,” said Secretary Clinton. “So whether it’s women’s rights or human rights, civil rights or LGBT rights, we’re counting on all of you to lead the way—and that’s what the No Ceilings initiative at the Clinton Foundation is really all about.”

The next eruption of cheers came when Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” invited Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, to the stage for a one-on-one conversation about his post-presidential work.

Joining them afterward were panelists Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health and Harvard Medical School’s Kolokotrones University Professor, and two members of the Moscow-based protest-art collective known as Pussy Riot, Maria “Masha” Alekhina and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova.

UM senior Kamila Orlova, a political science major from Russia, was tapped as translator.

Sporting sunglasses, Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, who each served 22 months in a Russian prison, spoke in English of the harsh conditions, particularly the lack of medical care, they experienced. “There is no medicine at all,” they explained. “It is the main problem of prison and it’s why we opened an NGO [nongovernmental organization] and why we are now working on conditions of Russian prisons.”

Farmer spoke of his own organization’s work to improve health outcomes in Tomsk, Siberia, as well as in other places with critical medical needs such as Haiti, Peru, and Rwanda. “Once someone is in prison, they’re in prison ostensibly as punishment not for punishment,” he agreed, noting that Partners in Health helped reduce tuberculosis deaths from 24 percent to zero through getting better lab tests and the correct medications into Tomsk. In addition to human and civil rights, he noted, “There’s also social and economic rights, like the right not to die when you’re sick because you’re poor. That’s really what Partners in Health is about.”

When Wilmore asked what Pussy Riot’s main goal is now, Alekhina replied: “Take Putin away.” They added that they’ve launched an independent media group called Mediazona because, said Alekhina, “especially during last year, our government closed and crushed a bunch of independent media, so we did it because we believe that information and independent journalists is a thing which can really change the situation because, most of the Russians, they don’t know about what the government is doing.”

After students had a chance to ask the panel questions, Clinton gave his closing remarks. He thanked the University of Miami again for hosting the CGI U meeting and thanked UM President Donna E. Shalala for agreeing to become the Clinton Foundation’s CEO “in her next life.”

Like his wife, President Clinton also referenced Selma, Alabama, and the journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which took place when he was just 18 years old.

The events of that day, he noted, led to the march on Montgomery, Alabama, after which Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While fundamental change is never easy, he acknowledged, he pointed out “very young people” led this movement. “Martin Luther King was 26 when he started his great ministry here,” he said, urging CGI U attendees to use their minds and hearts to move the world too. “Your ability to meet the challenges you will face is greater collectively and individually than at any time in history. March on. Remember the people who crossed that bridge. Just cross your own bridge and keep walking.”

The Clinton Foundation announced that the Eighth Clinton Global Initiative University meeting concluded with 700 new student Commitments to Action made by more than 1,000 millennials from 75-plus nations. They added that this year more than $900,000 in funding opportunities from the CGI University Network, the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, and other sources were made available to select CGI U students to help them turn their ideas into action.