For me, it was the image of 3-year-old Aylan washed up on a Turkish beach that got my attention. Aylan and his family were fleeing Syria’s civil war. Desperate for safety and rejected for asylum in Canada, Aylan’s parents entrusted his life to a smuggler and an ill-equipped and overcrowded boat. Aylan, his brother, and mother all drowned. Only his father survived.
In the months that followed, a steady stream of news reports indicated the Syrian people were being subjected to daily bombings, ISIS brutality, and frightening levels of violence. At the same time, I noticed rhetoric, both in the U.S.A. and Europe, “disavowing” help for the world’s most vulnerable – innocent Syrian children and families trapped in hellish circumstances by poverty and politics. Yet, there was Christopher Catrambone, using his personal wealth to equip a rescue ship to pluck refugees out of the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014, this effort has saved more than 12,000 lives at sea.
In my job as a corporate lawyer, I cultivate a culture of accountability and responsibility. “See something, say something” and “lead by example” are what I train my colleagues. These core beliefs follow me home long after the work day has ended. And while I am not in a position to personally finance a rescue ship, I cannot sit back and hope the suffering magically ends. This is why my family made the decision to sponsor a Syrian family. For three months, a family of six, with four boys ages 4-8, will live in my home with our family: myself, my husband, and our three small children.
With 11 people under one roof, life is suddenly very different. No more evenings spent leisurely drinking a glass of wine and browsing Pottery Barn catalogues after the kids are tucked in. We cook and eat meals together. We help our children with homework together. We do housework together. After the collective seven children are in bed, we sit and study English flashcards for hours. The phonetic illustration for the letter “I” is an igloo. For the letter “U” it is a unicorn. The mother types into Google translator, “Do Americans frequently talk about igloos and unicorns?” and we all erupt into laughter at the absurdity of it all. The family knows the road ahead is long. They are committed to learning English and are confident that with hard work and determination they can make a better life for their children. This is not a story unique to Syrians, this is the quintessential American story.
I share my experience with you for one singular reason. Just as Mr. Catrambone’s actions inspired me, I hope to inspire you. While resolving the issues creating the crisis may be out of our sphere of influence, our response to crisis is not. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You, my State Bar colleagues, are leaders. You have the power to influence.
Meet Our Contributors
What is your most “on brand” story from your childhood?
My high school (Wausau West) did not have a girls soccer team. So, I gently reminded administrators of their Title IX obligations, recruited volunteer coaches, secured corporate sponsorship to fund uniforms, and found 30 girls to field two teams. Then I named myself captain.
So, you can see, I’ve always had a strong bias for action and have been a bit of an instigator. My skill is identifying opportunities and pulling together diverse groups of people that can be energized to create something bigger. In my current role as Global Procurement Senior Counsel at Johnson Controls, I especially enjoy putting together project teams to tackle problems that have not yet been solved.
Right now, I am feeling especially inspired by #BLM. This moment in time is an opportunity for us all to turn our attention to one of the most important issues facing our country – racial justice – and work as “instigators” to create a better, more just society. There are so many people doing life-changing work in this space, and I’ll do my best to be included in that group!
Anza Maureen Michaela D’Antonio, Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee.
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