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Speakers inspire students at annual Rutgers Mark Conference

Sir Jose Bright of the Teboho Trust spoke about what originally inspired him to work for charity at the Mark Conference. Guests discussed surviving abuse and how to have an impact at the annual event. – Photo by Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez | The Daily Targum

Time Magazine’s 2014 "Person of the Year," a genocide survivor and a hip-hop artist have one thing in common — they left their “mark” on students at this year’s Mark Conference.

Hundreds of students joined a host of inspirational speakers Saturday at Rutgers’ Fourth Annual Mark Conference in the Livingston Student Center.

Humanitarians, artists and activists were joined by a host of student speakers, each looking to make their own “mark” on the world. By retelling their experiences, they hoped to encourage others to be better and help those around them, even if it just meant giving a smile.

“It’s been so amazing. Absolutely every speaker is inspiring,” said Suraya Almosbeh, a Rutgers Nursing School—Newark senior and president-at-large of the School of Nursing executive board.

Among the speakers was Sir Jose Bright, founder of the Teboho Trust, a charitable trust established to help communities in South Africa by engaging communities and imparting the skills those communities need to stand on their own in the future.

“It was important to get the people in the community to move away from this dependency on outside help to solve their problems,” Bright said. “I’ve always believed that if you can survive apartheid, there’s some resilience inside you, some excellence inside of you.“

Outside help often seeks to fix symptoms rather than causes, said Lauren Kilmer, a Rutgers Business School sophomore. When this is the case, those suffering do not learn how to be sustainable or solve their own issues — all they receive is a short-term solution.

The solution, Bright said, is to treat the suffering like people and work with them to help them, instead of looking down on them.

“I don’t want to see that here. And that’s why I want to say what’s not so popular and get people to move beyond the rhetoric and move beyond the fear and the xenophobia, and to understand (that) we’re all human and we need every human being,” he said.

His more than 20 years of service did not begin out of a want for recognition or selfishness. Even when faced with naysayers, Bright, now an ordained knight of honor in the Orthodox Order of Saint John Russian Grand Priory, started his journey because of a lone orphan.

In 2000 Bright hosted some of his American friends in South Africa. While the tourists, led by local children, explored nearby homes, Bright’s life was changing forever.

An orphan led Bright to the shack where he lived alone. Inside the newspaper-lined metal walls there was nothing — no bed, no water, no family. When Bright looked into the boy’s eyes, he did not see a child. The boy had seen more than he should have, he said.

“The parent and the adult in me said, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?’ and he said to me ‘I can’t worry about tomorrow. I’m hungry. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me tomorrow. Help me,’” Bright said.

When Bright returned to his home, he could not sleep. Two days later, he returned to the boy’s home but found nothing.

“I had missed my opportunity to serve,” Bright said.

His devotion and compassion for the less fortunate set him apart, Almosbeh said. Despite his success, he managed to remain humble enough to be approachable.

When he finished, Bright left his listeners with a call to action. The poor and the helpless need help, he said.

“I want you to, just as you are, go wherever you see people experiencing a vulnerability. If it’s a school, go and give science, math, English classes. If it’s a homeless person, have a conversation,” he said. “You never know the impact you’re going to make by saying ‘you’re beautiful,’ ‘you’re powerful,’ ‘you’re going places.’"


Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.

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