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← Being young and making an impact

At 18, Natalie Warne's work with the Invisible Children movement made her a hero for young activists. She uses her inspiring story to remind us that no one is too young to change the world.

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Showing Revision 6 created 02/11/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. My mom is a strong black woman

  2. who raised her kids to have
    the same sense of strength and pride.
  3. This spirit was epitomized
    by a single wall
  4. in our small, two-bedroom apartment
    on the South Side of Chicago.
  5. Two pictures hung proudly:
  6. one larger-than-life photo
    of my siblings and I
  7. and the other a picture of my mom
  8. at 12 years old
  9. staring into the eyes
    of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  10. When I was younger,
    I used to stand on my tippy-toes,

  11. stare at that picture,
  12. close my eyes tightly,
    and just pretend that it was me
  13. gazing up at the man who revolutionized
    the Civil Rights Movement,
  14. who marched on Washington
    and who transformed a generation
  15. by his words, "I have a dream."
  16. But I did get to meet him.

  17. Now, obviously, I didn't meet Dr. King,
  18. but I met a man named Dr. Vincent Harding.
  19. He worked with Dr. King from day one
  20. and even wrote some of his
    most iconic speeches.
  21. You see, this was a really
    important moment for me as a kid,
  22. because it was the first time
    that I realized
  23. that it wasn't just Dr. King
    who led this revolution,
  24. but he was surrounded by a movement
    made up of anonymous extraordinaries.
  25. Anonymous extraordinaries are people
    who work selflessly and vigorously

  26. for what they believe in,
  27. people who are motivated by conviction
    and not recognition.
  28. It took me a long time to realize
    the significance of this moment,
  29. until I was much older.
  30. And like I said, I grew up in Chicago.

  31. I grew up in a rough, poor neighborhood,
  32. but it didn't really matter to me as kid
  33. because I literally have
    the most incredible family in the world.
  34. Two things that I did
    struggle with a lot
  35. growing up was one --
  36. that my dad has been sick my whole life.
  37. He suffers from Parkinson's
    and pancreatitis,
  38. and as a kid, it was so hard
    for me to watch my hero
  39. in so much pain.
  40. And my other issue was with me.
  41. I guess you could say
    I had an identity crisis.
  42. I had to move four times
    during high school,
  43. and my freshman year I went
    to an extremely racist high school.
  44. Kids were so cruel.
  45. They gave us hate letters,
  46. wrote terrible things on our lockers
  47. and because I'm biracial,
    they would tell me,
  48. "You can't be both.
    You have to choose, black or white."
  49. And in the end
    I just resented being either.
  50. And then all of a sudden,
    my senior year rolls around, 2008,
  51. and being mixed, being racially
    ambiguous is this new cool fad,
  52. like, "Natalie, now it's OK
    for you to like you. You're pretty now."
  53. I was over it. I was tired of caring
    about what other people thought
  54. and I just wanted to hurry up,
  55. go through my classes,
    whatever school I was going to be at next,
  56. and graduate.
  57. It wasn't until I was 17

  58. and I saw a film
    called "Invisible Children"
  59. that something happened.
  60. Child soldiers,
  61. children as young as my nephews
  62. being abducted,
    given AK-47s and forced to kill,
  63. not just anyone, but oftentimes
    forced to kill their own parents,
  64. their own siblings --
  65. a rebel army committing mass murder
    for no political or religious reason,
  66. just because.
  67. 25 years.
  68. 25 years this conflict has been going on.
  69. I'm 20 years old,
  70. so that makes this conflict
    five years older than me.
  71. One man,
  72. one man with one charismatic voice,
  73. started this whole thing.
  74. His name is Joseph Kony.
  75. When I saw this film, something happened.

  76. Something started
    kind of stirring inside of me,
  77. and I couldn't identify what it was.
  78. I didn't know if it was rage,
    if it was pity,
  79. if I felt guilty
    because this was the first time
  80. I'd heard about a 25-year-long war.
  81. I couldn't even give it a name.
  82. All I knew is that it kicked me off my ass
    and I started asking questions.
  83. What do I do? What can one 17-year-old do?
  84. You've got to give me something.
  85. And they gave me something.

  86. The founders and filmmakers
    at Invisible Children told me
  87. that there was this bill,
  88. that if we could
    just get this bill passed,
  89. it would do two things:
    one, it would apprehend Joseph Kony
  90. and the top commanders in his rebel army,
  91. and two, it would provide funding
    for the recovery of these regions
  92. that had been devastated
    by 25 years of war.
  93. And I was like, done. Let me at it.
  94. I swear I will do whatever I can
    to make this happen.
  95. So myself and 99 other
    idealistic 18- to 20-year-olds

  96. hopped on a plane to intern
    in San Diego with Invisible Children.
  97. I was postponing college.
    We weren't getting paid for this
  98. and you could call it irresponsible
    or crazy -- my parents did.
  99. But for us, it would have been
    insane not to go.
  100. We all felt this urgency,
    and we would do whatever it took
  101. to pass this bill.
  102. So we were given our first task.

  103. We were going to plan an event called
    the Rescue of Joseph Kony's Child Soldiers
  104. where participants would come
    in a hundred cities worldwide
  105. and rally in their city center
  106. until a celebrity or a political figure
  107. came and used their voice
    on behalf of these child soldiers,
  108. and at that point each city was "rescued."
  109. But the catch was, we weren't
    leaving the cities until we were rescued.
  110. I was given Chicago and nine other cities
  111. and I told my bosses, I was like,
  112. "If we're going for big-name people,
    why not go for the queen bee? Right?
  113. Why not go for Oprah Winfrey?"
  114. They thought I was a little idealistic,
    but I mean, we were trying to think big.
  115. We were doing an impossible thing,
  116. so why not try to reach
    more impossible things?
  117. And so we had from January
    to April to get this done.
  118. This is the number of hours
    that I spent on logistics,

  119. from getting permits
    to rallying participants
  120. and finding venues.
  121. This is the number of times
    that I was rejected
  122. by celebrities' agents
    or politicians' secretaries.
  123. That is amount of money
    that I spent personally
  124. on Red Bull and Diet Coke
    to stay awake during this movement.
  125. (Laughter)

  126. You can judge me if you want to.

  127. That is my hospital bill
    from the kidney infection I got
  128. from an overconsumption of caffeine
    due to this event.
  129. (Laughter)

  130. These were just some
    of the ridiculous things that we did

  131. to try and pull this event off.
  132. And so April 21 rolls around
    and the event begins.

  133. A hundred cities around the world.
    They were beautiful.
  134. Six days later, all the cities
    were rescued but one:
  135. Chicago.
  136. So we were waiting in the city.

  137. People started coming
    from all over the world,
  138. all over the country to be reinforcements
  139. and join their voice with ours.
  140. And finally, on May 1,
  141. we wrapped ourselves around Oprah's studio
  142. and we got her attention.
  143. This is a clip from a film
    called "Together We Are Free"

  144. documenting the rescue event
    and my attempt to get Oprah.
  145. (Video) Oprah Winfrey:
    When I drove into the office,

  146. there was a giant -- when you came in,
    was there a group outside?
  147. Crowd: Yes.

  148. OW: Holding up signs
    asking if I would talk to them

  149. for just five minutes,
  150. so I was happy to do so.
  151. And they are with a group
    called "Invisible Children,"
  152. and I told this group outside
  153. that I'd give them a minute
    to state their case.
  154. Man: Oprah, thank you
    so much for having us.

  155. Basically, these folks out here
    have seen the story of 30,000 children
  156. abducted by a rebel leader
    named Joseph Kony.
  157. And they're out here in solidarity,
  158. and they have been out here for six days.
  159. This started 100,000 people worldwide.
  160. Now it's down to 500 standing strong
  161. so that you can raise
    the profile of this issue
  162. and we can end the longest-running
    war in Africa and rescue those kids
  163. that are child soldiers
    still in East Africa.
  164. Oprah, I have to say
    this girl Natalie here,
  165. she's 18 years old.
  166. She was an intern for us this year,
  167. and she said, "My one goal
    is to get Oprah."
  168. She had 2,000 people come out on Saturday,
  169. but it rained.
  170. She stood here in the rain with 50 people.
  171. When they heard she was here,
    hundreds started coming.
  172. People are here from Mexico, Australia.
  173. Natalie's 18.
  174. Don't think you're too young.
  175. You can change the world any day.
  176. Start now.
  177. Start today.
  178. (Cheers)

  179. Man: Was it worth it?

  180. Crowd: Yeah!

  181. Natalie! Natalie! Natalie!

  182. (Music)

  183. Together we are free!
    Together we are free!

  184. (Applause)

  185. So you would think
    that this is the moment in my life,

  186. the pinnacle that
    made me an extraordinary.
  187. And it was an awesome moment.
  188. I mean, I was on top of the world.
  189. Ten million people
    watched the "Oprah Winfrey Show."
  190. But looking back, that wasn't it.
  191. Don't get me wrong.
  192. Like I said, it was great moment.
  193. It made for a heck of a profile picture
    on Facebook for a week.
  194. (Laughter)

  195. But I had been extraordinary all along,

  196. and I wasn't alone.
  197. You see, even though
    my story was featured in this film,

  198. I was just one of a hundred interns
  199. who worked their tails off
    to make this happen.
  200. I'm up in the air,
  201. but the guy that I'm sitting
    on his shoulders,
  202. he's my best friend.
  203. His name is Johannes Oberman
  204. and Johannes worked with me
    from day one in Chicago,
  205. just as long hours,
    just as many sleepless nights as I did.
  206. The girl on the right,
    her name's Bethany Bylsma.
  207. Bethany planned New York City and Boston,
  208. and they were seriously
    the most beautiful events that we held.
  209. The girl on the left, her name's Colleen.
  210. Colleen moved to Mexico,
  211. moved, for three months,
  212. to plan five events there,
  213. only to be kicked out
    the day before the events
  214. because of the swine flu.
  215. And then there was this family.
  216. This family, they didn't
    get to come to the rescue.
  217. They couldn't make it out,
  218. but they ordered
    a hundred boxes of pizza for us,
  219. delivered them to the corner
    of Michigan and Randolph
  220. where we were all silently protesting.
  221. You see, it was people like this
    doing whatever they could,
  222. simultaneously, single-mindedly,
  223. without a care to who was watching,
  224. that made this happen.
  225. It wasn't about us getting on Oprah,
  226. because when I got down
    from their shoulders,
  227. the war hadn't ended.
  228. It was about that bill.
  229. Oprah was just a checkpoint
    on the way to that bill.
  230. That bill was the point.
  231. That bill is what we had
    our eyes set on from day one.
  232. That was going to help us
    end Africa's longest-running war.
  233. And that is what brought
    a hundred thousand people
  234. out to the rescue event
    from around the world.
  235. And it paid off:

  236. 10 days after we were on Oprah,
  237. the bill was introduced into Congress.
  238. A year after that, it got unanimously
  239. 267 cosponsors in Congress.
  240. And then one week after that,
  241. President Obama signed our bill into law.
  242. (Applause)

  243. And none of us interns got to be there.

  244. We didn't get to be there in this moment.
  245. Our founders were there.
  246. They're the guys
    cheesing in the background.
  247. But that moment right there
    is what made all of it worth it.
  248. It's what a hundred thousand
    anonymous extraordinaries
  249. worked for so hard to make that happen.
  250. You know, the Oprah moments,

  251. they prove that the supposedly
    impossible can be done.
  252. They inspire us.
    They boost our confidence.
  253. But the moment isn't a movement.
  254. Even a lot of those moments
    strung together don't fuel a movement.
  255. What fuels a movement are
    the anonymous extraordinaries behind it.
  256. You know, for me, what kept me
    pushing on through the rescue

  257. was the thought of those child soldiers.
  258. It became personal.
    I was able to go to Africa at one point.
  259. I met these incredible people.
  260. I have friends that have been
    living in this conflict their entire life,
  261. and it was personal to me.
  262. But that doesn't have to be
    what drives you.

  263. You know, you may want
    to be the next Shepard Fairey
  264. or the next JK Rowling
  265. or the next whoever.
  266. It doesn't matter, but whatever you want,
  267. chase after it
    with everything that you have --
  268. not because of the fame or the fortune,
  269. but solely because
    that's what you believe in,
  270. because that's what makes your heart sing.
  271. That's what your dance is.
  272. That's what is going
    to define our generation,

  273. when we start chasing and fighting
    after the things that we love
  274. and that we want to fight for.
  275. I cared too much in high school
    about what people thought about me.

  276. That's what so awesome
    about this conference,
  277. is so many of you are so young.
  278. Find that thing that inspires you
    that you love, and just chase after it.
  279. You know, fight for that,
  280. because that is what
    is going to change this world
  281. and that is what defines us.
  282. Despite what people think,

  283. my Oprah moments,
    my being on TED, doesn't define me,
  284. because if you were
    to follow me home to LA,
  285. you would see me waiting tables
    and nannying to pay the bills
  286. as I chase after my dream
    of becoming a filmmaker.
  287. In the small, anonymous, monotonous
  288. every-single-day acts,
  289. I have to remind myself
    to be extraordinary.
  290. And believe me, when the door
    is closed and the cameras are off,
  291. it's tough.
  292. But if there's one thing
    that I want to drive home to you,
  293. one thing that I can say,
    not just to you but to myself,
  294. is that it is the acts
    that make us extraordinary,
  295. not the Oprah moments. Thank you.