From Homelessness to Howard: Former GV participant inspires change

Marita Phelps (right) at the 2011 Fiesta de Guatemala Auction
By Christina Lorella
Marita Phelps is certainly a name worth mentioning.  While her inspirational story to succeed against all odds will surely prove uplifting, it is her intelligence, her compassion, and her dedication to global justice that truly are exceptional.
Marita, now a young woman of twenty years, participated in Global Visionaries in 2007.  She regards her experiences before GV as being similar to that of “any other typical teenager.” She played basketball and golf, was a member of her school’s student body council, and was a school thespian.  However, despite her incredible efforts to fit in amongst her peers, there was one thing that set her apart. She was homeless.
At just sixteen years of age, a young Marita, along with her sister and mother, were forced out of their home and had to find shelter wherever they could.  They found refuge in local motels, floated between the homes of friends, even slept in their car.  The pressures of her unfortunate circumstances began to take a toll, eventually causing Marita to stop attending school for a short period of time.  It was then that Marita learned about Global Visionaries.
“Learning about GV was inspiring and something to be hopeful about,” Marita said. “But I was nervous to tell my mother about the program because of the costs.  I took a chance anyway.”
Marita and her family worked tirelessly to come up with the funds needed to cover the required program fees, despite their many hardships.  Unfortunately, after exhausting all forms of fundraising, Marita’s budget still fell short. At that point, she believed that GV would no longer be a part of her reality.
It was then that Marita shared her story with a Global Visionaries staff member, who was so moved by her words that she awarded Marita a  scholarship allowing her to remain in the program.  Not only did Marita take part in the leadership class and trip to Guatemala that year, but also came back to serve on both the Youth Board and the Pro-Justice Team.
Through her work in these programs, Marita became exposed to the vast number of  injustices that still exist in our world today. She witnessed a need for change and decided that she would spend each day trying to better herself, and in turn, the world.  As Gandhi once said,”Be the change you wish to see in this world.” Marita does just that.
Her experiences in GV taught her that through diversity and dialogue, peace can be accomplished. “Diversity is critical to the mission of global justice,” Marita said. “People are often secluded from each other, separated by class, race, and culture; leaving our acceptance of the world limited and biased, unable to understand and appreciate one another. But, creating unity through diversity, allows us to transform our world together…that is the magical part of GV that is rare in our society today and hard to come by.”
Marita graduated from Garfield High School in 2008, where she helped develop the African-American Scholars Program and subsequently won the Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarship. She now attends Howard University, in Washington D.C., where she is majoring in playwriting. 
Since leaving our organization, Marita has made it a priority to  continue to fight for global justice, both environmentally and socially. In fact, Marita and a group of friend’s were so appalled at the lack of recycling resources at Howard, that together they implemented the “Green Team”.  Through this program, they have introduced widespread recycling and have helped create a more healthy, sustainable campus.
Last summer, Marita followed her passion for change when she began working for a widely recognized nonprofit, Martha’s Table. She has since created and led her own poetry and drama workshops at a  D.C. middle school and has also served as a  workshop facilitator for “Theater as Social Change,” a program offered through Georgetown University.
This upcoming summer, Marita will embark on a journey to Ghana through a New York-based nonprofit, Operation Crossroads Africa.  While there, she will facilitate workshops with local youth to create drama and media performances that will be presented to the larger community on topics such as HIV/AIDS awareness, history, and other critical social issues. Come fall, Marita will participate in an exchange program through Colombia University.
Quite a list of accomplishments for a twenty year old, who just four years ago, had no place to call home.
Marita says that through her involvement in GV, she learned, “to be a leader, humility, social responsibility, and confidence.”  She encourages other students to join the programs, especially Youth Board and the Pro-Justice Team, and believes that by doing so, they will gain a life-changing experience, learn critical life and job skills,  make life-long friends, and will share family-like bonding experiences.
“As I continue to develop and reflect on my experiences, it is almost impossible for me to speak about my life without the inclusion of GV,” Marita said. “One of the many homes I was raised in.”

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