Aisha Moodie-Mills, the 2020 MLK Week keynote speaker

Agents of change

When you encounter the word “politics,” what comes to mind? Perhaps voting, laws and elections. Maybe you understand how politics play out in the United States, or maybe it seems like a code you can never hope to crack. For the 2020 MLK Week, we explored ways to “Face everything and rise.” Our keynote, Aisha Moodie-Mills (she/her), who is currently a CNN political commentator, spoke on campus about turning feelings of anger, frustration and fear into tangible change for a better future.

Moodie-Mills was no stranger to passion growing up. At various points in her life, she wanted to become anything from a therapist or child psychologist to a superintendent. The heart of all these dreams, though, was a deep desire to understand how systems affect our lives and to correct these dynamics to better serve everyone. Eventually, these passions morphed into a focus on the government.

She first concentrated on rights for two communities she identifies as a member of—the Black community and women.

“Having thought that I had it all figured out as a young person and knew what my career trajectory was going to be and what my strength was, you really don’t know anything until you start to experience life,” said Moodie-Mills.

Politics became even more personal to Moodie-Mills when she fell in love with her partner at a time when marriage was not a right extended to the LGBTQIA+ community. Noting that there was little Black representation among those fighting for marriage equality, she decided to join the fight and eventually broadened her activism from marriage equality to several policies affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. This space allowed her to bring all her identities into her work, advocate for causes directly affecting her own life and end up as the president and CEO of the Victory Fund and Institute.

Looking at this journey, it’s no wonder that she’s become an inspiration to many. However, Moodie-Mills knows her triumphs weren’t achieved without pain. She attributes much of her motivation to what she calls a “cold pit” in her stomach she just couldn’t shake. To her, the most constant companion to her motivation is profound anxiety. What does the future hold? Will my work actually impact the way our world runs? Where can I make a difference and truly matter?

But Moodie-Mills doesn’t put on a brave face and ignore fear. She sees the biggest agents of change as those who are still moving and harnessing the acknowledgment of fear as an indication that change is needed.

“The people who seem so courageous that you see marching on the front lines—the people that seem like steel—all of us feel the same level of anxiety,” said Moodie-Mills.

Moodie-Mills implored us to find comfort in remembering that figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Audre Lorde and so many others who we hold as beacons for change did not replace fear with courage, but rather could no longer ignore what their conscience was motivating them to do. To Moodie-Mills, “the only way we can change the world is by doing the right thing when it matters, even if we’re afraid,” and in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “the time is always right to do what is right.”