Sophie Gerson. Credit: The Gerson Family.
My Grandma Sophie taught me the importance of standing up against people who take advantage of others. Her activism—and that of her allies in the labor movement—inspired me to dedicate my life to advocating for people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, or rendered invisible. As a little girl, I remember hearing about how my grandmother, a textile union organizer, was arrested, framed and almost deported because she wouldn’t stop speaking out for worker justice. I remember being electrified by my grandmother’s stories about fighting corrupt bosses and profit-hungry factory owners.
But no story from that era was more shocking to me than the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.
In that tragic, preventable disaster, 146 women—mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants—perished after being trapped inside. The manager had locked all the doors and exits. Read More
Leah Kaplan Robins in Cambodia.
As AJWS’s senior writer and editor, my job is to put AJWS’s complex work—helping marginalized people in the developing world realize their human rights—into words. I tell stories about activists around the globe, trying to bring their lives and challenges alive for AJWS supporters who’ve never met them—or who may have never seen this kind of poverty and injustice themselves.
What may surprise you is that, until just recently, I hadn’t seen it either. For the past four years at AJWS, I have portrayed communities and human rights struggles by hearing stories from colleagues, interviewing our grantees when they visited New York, and pouring over photos from our staff, volunteers and grantees to glean images and feelings that I could convey on the page.
But two weeks ago, AJWS sent me into the field with two of my colleagues—to Cambodia. For the first time, I stood face-to-face with the people whose struggles we’re funding—in their own communities. While this one trip can’t encapsulate the diverse range of places AJWS works, it provided moments of deep connection that I can now share with you, and that will inspire my work for a long time to come. Read More