By Toussaint Egan
On the first Saturday of this January, I took an early morning train with a friend out to Chicago to participate in the social advocacy/awareness project of one of our classmates. If you’re a student of Aurora University you might know her as Lauren Lawson, but to the broader downtown Chicago area she has grown to be known as “The Girl with The White Board”. She’s been featured by The Huffington Post, interviewed by CLTV, not to mention having amassed a thriving following through social media to say the least. But what is purpose of “The Girl With The White Board”? On her personal website, Lauren lays on the origins and goals of her project. “I aspire to begin a movement that will help people understand that others have struggles similar to their own, making loneliness obsolete. By sharing some of my light, I hope to ignite strength in strangers to find motivation to achieve all that they ever needed or wanted.”
“To know that the 18 people that day showed up because they believed in something I believed in was truly moving.” says Lauren reflecting on the impact of that day’s events. “To know there are even more dreamers out there is powerful. [My vision] is for people to set aside their reservations and stepped outside their daily lives. Expressing support is one thing, committing is another. The latter is what shows the project’s strength.”
The whole of my time with the “White Board Movement” was exhilarating. Sitting alongside common supporters of Lauren’s message, writing and sharing our own messages of empowerment and encouragement with one another, taking group photos before walking down Michigan Avenue together to choose our spots to stand was a truly memorable experience. My position was in front of a retail clothing store, just down the block from my friend’s assigned spot. I stood there, white board in hand, with an open smile that soon froze to my face from the cold. I could not help but admire Lauren’s conviction in choosing to make this after a while, my friend and I decided to take a break to walk and talk. After I returned to my spot, I had a peculiar moment of serendipity looking up from the spot I had chosen to stand. I had noticed, for the first time during that day, that the name of the storefront that I was tasked with standing in front of, All Saints Spitalfields, was the English translation of my birth name. I had originally chosen this spot at random, but upon realizing this I felt as though, that for whatever reason, I was meant to be there. This realization only strengthened the resolve of my purpose to stand against the cold.
Towards the end of my stay I was actually almost evicted from my spot by a street performer who looked like a cross between Prince and the bad guy from Terminator 2, but after a short talk we came to a mutual decision to share the spot. I left out around my third hour, said goodbye to Lauren, and hoped on the nearest train out to a friend’s apartment.
While on the train, I had some time to reflect on the events of the day, and whether or not I thought that my message was effective. Some smiled, some looked incredulously, some took pictures, some scowled. I will admit, in retrospect, that I felt as though the message I chose to hold may have gone over the heads of a lot people I encountered that day. But I was nonetheless proud to wear it on my white board, because it was my message, and it was something that I felt so strongly about that I felt that I needed to share it.
“Do not insulate yourself from compassion; do not inoculate yourself from empathy.”
When you live and interact with people daily in a concentrated urban city, it’s not hard to detach yourself from the idea that the person sitting across from you on the Metra bus or the sullen disinterested-looking people walking alongside you are human beings. That those are real people, with real families and real lives, who exist as something other than the moving pattern of unfamiliar faces that swims through the city of Chicago. Though the wide world is full of disease and sickness, do not insulate yourself from compassion. Though your fellow human being can at times be cold and callous, with words and actions and intentions just as harmful as any poison, do not inoculate yourself from empathy; As if those qualities were something cancerous and reprehensible, as though they were not essential to the human condition and worth preserving despite the pain that comes with them.
There are moments that happen in our lives that stand distinct in how they call upon the “better angels of our nature”, that inspire the very best that exists in us. Whether it’s a presentation in front of a stage, a favor you do for a loved one or familiar friend, or that random innocuous act of kindness that may never bear recognition or reward but you act just the same; I believe strongly in these moments, in how they strengthen the ties that we have to our fellow man and woman and at heart solidify the bonds and convictions of character that we hold within ourselves. Life is a collection of experiences. I’m proud to call my time standing at Michigan Avenue with a white board one of them.
As for the project now, Lauren continues to update the website and look for new opportunities to expand and inspire. “Inspiration is contagious, and I intend to keep spreading it. As for the far future of the project, I prefer not to think of it that way. It’s almost like saying “how will it end?” For now, I’m going to enjoy the experience and treat every day as an adventure to meet more beautiful people.”
Photos courtesy of