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Your calling always finds you in the least expected way. One of my students posed the challenge to apply. Anyone who knows me knows that backing down from a challenge is not part of my DNA. I was at a loss for words, which never happens, according to my mother, who fondly tells stories that I have been talking nonstop since birth. This challenge from my student quickly evolved into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the blossoming of my calling.

There is always a period of preparation before your calling is fully unveiled. My student did not know that I started each Saturday morning with inspiration from my favorite TED Talk presenters, such as Mellody Hobson (Color Blind or Color Brave) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (The Danger of a Single Story). I had a secret hobby of watching and studying TED Talks in order to craft my social justice message and inspire my students through classroom instruction. Now, I could join this esteemed coalition of social engineers and innovative thinkers by sharing "ideas worth spreading."

This experience provided me with the platform to share my vision of education for social change, when the classroom is transformed into a learning laboratory. Students become leaders who create innovative solutions to the pressing social justice challenges of the 21st Century.

I developed this model of engagement while teaching at the University of St. Thomas. My students raised awareness about the tangled web of mass incarceration, with many entry points and far fewer exit points. We supported Restore the Vote (a coalition supporting voting rights restoration for people who have served time) and the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice (challenging the predatory cost of prison phone calls) in order to advance policy reform related to the criminal justice system.

Our team had become a modern day Justice League wielding our superpowers (i.e. legal training, writing, creative problem solving skills) to create new inroads to justice and freedom. Together, we re-imagined education. This was a dream come true, since I always wanted to become Miss Freedom Fighter, Esq. - basically Wonder Woman with a law degree and afro. I was determined to use my education in the struggle for justice.


My TEDx experience ignited my passion for launching my organization, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute. Today I teach and train ordinary people to unleash the extraordinary power in their hands to make a difference in the world. This is my calling. A call to leadership. A call to service.

Artika Tyner an educator, author, civil rights attorney, speaker and advocate for justice. Artikatyner.com

Editor's Note: Watch Tyner's TEDx Talk: tinyurl.com/Tyner-Tedx

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