Watch a Clip from 'Darfur Now'
Since February of 2003, the massacre of African Muslims by Arab Muslims in Darfur has resulted in over 400,000 deaths and 2.5. million displaced people. Nearly five years later, the senseless violence has continued, but now everyday people--and celebrities--are stepping up to the challenge of being activists. UCLA graduate Adam Sterling is one of those people.
After reading about the genocide, he committed himself to affecting change by heading up the Sudan Divestment Task Force. Since then, he has been on the fast track to humanitarian success pairing up with celebrities such as Don Cheadle and George Clooney, securing meetings with state and local government officials in California—including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and going before the U.S. Senate to testify as an expert on divestment.
Sterling spoke to Beliefnet about how he got started, what motivates him to keep fighting, his experience working with Cheadle on the "Darfur Now" documentary, and how anyone can lend a helping hand.
When did you know that Darfur was the cause that you needed to get involved with?
I was a student and in one of the courses I was taking, we looked at what happened in Rwanda in 1994, where close to a million people were killed in less than 100 days. I couldn't believe that this had happened in my lifetime.
Timing was strange. Right then I got an email from someone. Someone had sent me an article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He had just gotten back from a refugee camp in Darfur, and was talking about one of the major problems that rape is used as a systematic tool.
He was speaking with a young mother and he asked her, "If every time you send your daughter out to collect firewood she's raped, why don't you send your son?" The mother's response was, "Well, if I send my son, he'll be killed. If I send my daughter, she'll only be raped."
I just couldn't fathom having to make that decision on a daily basis, and [and the fact that] thousands of people do that every day.
At that moment, I knew that there were no excuses. We often look for excuses not to do things, and in my mind I had run out of excuses. So it was full speed ahead.
How much has your grandmother's life experience of fleeing the Nazis shaped you into the activist you are today?
I think it gave me the backdrop. I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. To me, genocide meant the Holocaust.
When I learned about Rwanda, I just started learning about other genocides, in Armenia, in South Sudan, Bosnia, and Rwanda. And there was a common theme. After each one happened, we would look at it and say, "Never again." [But] what was missing was a response and an effort to stop it while it was still happening. What's the point of knowing and learning about history if we're just going to let it happen again and again and again? And so, it angered me to grow up with that and then to be faced with it right now. And to not do anything just wasn't an option.
Where do you see God in the situation in Darfur?
It's a tough thing. And I think that's one thing I've always battled with in my own beliefs is that, if God does exist, then why would, he let--you know, I mean, when you see children suffering, that's such a hard thing to deal with. But then, when I started taking action and getting very involved, I realized I have been given the tools.
I found myself committing my life to it. And I know that something was there that gave me those tools to do that and gave me the voice to respond. I think that's why Darfur is so special, in that I think, it's humankind's worst, but it's the best that's fighting and responding to this.
Spirituality definitely plays a role in that. I mean, the various communities that have been involved and the inspiration and feeding off one another.
What role do you believe specific faith communities--Jewish people, Christian people, Muslims--play?
Collective action is so much more powerful than individual action.
By being part of those communities, that collectiveness is there, and so it's [about] tapping into it. There's no question it's groups, churches, temples, and mosques that are leading the charge in Darfur, those are the loudest voices.