Social Media & Loving Your Neighbor

Social Media & Loving Your Neighbor

Social media is a ubiquitous presence in the West, and is a growing one across the entire world. It is undoubtedly a source of positive connection and friendship for many, but its dangers are increasingly difficult to ignore, as much as the corporations who run them would like the public to think otherwise… So how can we --  especially those of us who believe in Jesus who himself embodied selfless love in an age of division, distrust, and hatred like our own --  think about loving, and actually embody love, to our neighbor in the age of social media?

Social Media for Social Good

Social Media for Social Good

I’ll admit, and perhaps surprisingly to some, that I have always been a bit leery of social media. When LinkedIn started in 2002, I saw the value of professional online connection, but didn’t see the utility of what seemed to be a clunky platform. When Myspace started in 2003, I thought it was creepy. I didn’t like the idea of anyone opening themselves up to the threat of potential predators. When Facebook started in 2004, I thought it was voyeuristic. I really didn’t like the idea of sharing my life in such a public way. I tested it out to promote work activities, but the general response was that people wanted to see more social than professional, which I didn’t want to do. When Twitter started in 2006, I didn’t quite understand how to navigate it. Having a small child at that point, I didn’t see the point of it for my life. When Instagram started in 2010, I had twin babies and a young school age child as well as a job where I worked 60+ hours a week. I just didn’t have the time for it.  And in 2011, when Snapchat started, I didn’t even bother with it. 

Social Media – The Thrill Is Gone

Social Media – The Thrill Is Gone

Social media platforms captivated us: connectivity with family and friends at the click of button; contacting like-minded individuals and groups across an ever-expanding digital spectrum; sharing photographs and videos, including perhaps, one's own artistic and musical content; accessing at our fingertips the most arcane information within nanoseconds; networking for business and employment opportunities; and, best of all, these social media platforms offered all of this and more for free.

Yet, despite being what are arguably some of the most compelling and useful innovations ever created, discontent is emerging among social media users, government officials, and even from those who helped develop these platforms, such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.  Unfortunately, and with apologies to Shakespeare, the dissatisfaction truly lies not with the platforms or firms, but with ourselves. Our ability to effortlessly communicate at electronic speeds has enabled us for better and for worse.

Portrait of an Advocate – In Memory of Brian Winger: Board Director, Agape International Missions

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By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.

Founder/Chair, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice; Board Director, Agape International Missions

Some advocates speak for their cause in presentations, protests, or marches. Some battle on the frontlines rescuing the abused. Some provide services and support to survivors. Some fight for justice in classrooms, jails, court rooms, and legislative chambers. And some quietly, diligently, and with dedication make it possible for all these others to advocate for those in need.

BrianWingerwasthekindofadvocatethatmadethingspossible. Hewasahumble,passionate, and deeply devoted man who loved God, his family, his work, and his cause -- ending sexual slavery in Cambodia. As a financial professional, he served for many years as Board Director and Board Treasurer for Agape International Missions (AIM). Brian provided years of countless hours of accounting services, financial advice, and fiscal oversight to ensure that AIM could do what it is here to do -- prevent, rescue, restore, & reintegrate survivors of sex trafficking. He was instrumental in helping AIM grow to more than 300 staff with numerous amazing projects that serve their mission.

I had the honor of working with Brian on the AIM Board since 2007. In all the years of meetings, planning, challenges, and tough decisions for AIM, Brian was always an encouragement to me personally and to everyone at AIM. He was steadfast in all that he

did. And he and his family were always willing to be of support, even opening their home for a place of rest and relaxation.

Brian was a friend and an athlete -- dedicated to biking, running, and other outdoor sports. I have fond memories of running three years in a row with Brian in the Run for Courage in Folsom, California -- an event to bring awareness and support for anti-human trafficking advocacy. He was always easy to talk to and fun to run with. I enjoyed those times with my friend.

Sadly, on Sunday July 7, while he was enjoying time with his family in the outdoors -- Brian suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I and everyone that is part of the AIM family are devastated by this loss. It hurts to think that this humble, passionate, devoted man and steadfast advocate is no longer with us. But it is a testimony to his life and legacy that I can write these words: an advocate is someone who gently and intentionally makes others better, improves situations that are difficult, and makes the seemingly impossible to be possible. That was Brian Winger, my friend, fellow AIM Board Director, and a true advocate. May God bless Brian for his tremendous life of faith, service, and advocacy.

Minority Kids’ Spelling Bee Dominance Proves Racism Is Far Less Important Than Work Ethic

By Helen Raleigh, G.L.O.B.A.L. Commentator & Board Director; CFA, DTM (Colorado), Immigration Policy Fellow; Centennial Institute, Colorado Christian University

Life is unpredictable, but there are a few seemingly sure bets: the New England Patriots play in the Super Bowl and Indian-American kids win the National Spelling Bee. In the last two decades, the Patriots have had nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles. During the same time period, Indian-American kids have won all but four Scripps National Spelling Bee championships.

This year is no exception: on May 31, the Scripps National Bee Championship competition ended in an eight-way tie with seven out of the eight champions Indian Americans. The final round lasted to midnight, and all eight kids spelled 47 consecutive words correctly.

It was the adults in the room who called quits. Dr. Jacques A. Bailly, the official pronouncer of the Bee, told the kids, “We do have plenty of words remaining on our list. But we will soon run out of words that will possibly challenge you, the most phenomenal collection of super spellers in the history of this competition.” Even Merriam Webster, whose Webster’s Third New International Dictionary serves as the official dictionary of the Bee, accepted its defeat on Twitter.

How did kids from South Asia—including Bangladesh, Pakistan, and especially India—become so dominant in the National Spelling Bee competition? Personal dedication, family commitment, cultural acceptance, and community support.

A Not-So-Secret Formula

There is no question that these kids work hard. Rishik Gandhasri, one of the eight co-champions, said in an interview that he spent between one and four hours each day on learning new words, in addition to his homework and various after-school activities such as swimming and piano lessons. Akash Vukoti, who qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2016 when he was only six years old, spent between one and five hours each day on learning new words.

These kids work so hard because adults in their families foster a culture of learning and are leading by example. Indian-Americans have one of the highest rates of educational attainment in the United Stats. About a third of them have college degrees, and more than 40 percent of them have postgraduate degrees, according to Pew Research. The majority of their degrees are in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

South Asian-Americans’ spelling bee achievement exemplifies our country’s strengths. We are a meritocratic society where all people can be successful if they put their minds to it.

Academic achievement is highly valued among Indian parents. Not surprisingly, parents who have higher education attainment and value education tend to raise kids who strive to be high achievers.

Education isn’t just a means to an economic end, although highly educated Indian-Americans are doing very well economically—the average household annual income of Indian families was around $100,000 in 2015. My friend Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, an Indian immigrant with three children and a law degree, told me that besides economic benefits, “Education is considered a noble pursuit—expanding the mind and capacities. The fact that many Indian students are excelling in school, and particularly on the spelling bee, is a reflection of that educational value.”

Family Sacrifice Is Part of Their Successful Culture

The emphasis on education means spelling bee competitions are usually a family commitment. Akash’s mom gave up her job to homeschool him when he was two years old. Like any other sports, parents sometimes have to drive for hours and even take time off to take their kids to regional and national competitions. Siblings help too. Rishik’s older brother, Rutvick, who competed in spelling competitions too, drilled Rishik on new words and provided feedback about his younger brother’s presentation style.

In addition to hard work and a culture that values education and family commitment, one unique factor of these kids’ success is community support. Their dominance today makes it hard to believe that Indian-American kids hadn’t always been good at spelling. Once upon a time, they consistently outperformed in every subject except English.

After Balu Natarajan became the first Indian American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1985, Indian-Americans like Ratnam Chitturi, who founded the North South Foundation (NSF) in 1989, believed that getting kids excited about spelling bee competitions would be a good way to improve their English language skills. NSF organized its first spelling bee competition in 1993.

Today, NSF has more than 90 chapters in the United States. These chapters organize annual Regional Education Contests in spelling, vocabulary, math, essay writing, public speaking, and geography. Winners of these contests are invited to the NSF’s National Finals, where champions receive scholarshipsto college.

The 2002 documentary, “Spellbound,” which follows eight competitors in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, really fired up Indian-Americans’ enthusiasm because one of the competitors—Nupur Lala, an Indian American girl—beat David Lewandowski and won the 1999 national title. Lala became a household name among Indian-Americans, and inspired many kids to follow in her footsteps.

Enthusiasm for Achievement Sparks New Institutions

To meet the growing demand, Rahul Walia launched the South Asian Spelling Bee in 2008, a platform focusing on spelling bee training and organizing annual competitions in the United States for children of South Asian descent. Its regional and national competitions are covered by South Asian-focused news media.

Adults in the community have also set up tutoring centers, summer camps, software, and study materials to train young spellers to get better and raise the bar of the competition. Each year, many kids of South Asian descent who qualified for the National Scripps Spelling Bee finals are alumni of NSF and South Asian Spelling Bee competitions.

These community-level competitions (nicknamed “minor league”) and the media coverage have turned spelling bees into a popular sport within South Asian American communities. Kids who win national titles are celebrities. Just about no one in the community laughs at them being nerds. Instead, they are respected and admired, like Olympic gold medalists or Nobel laureates. Their performances have been recorded and watched over and over again like popular TV shows. Their success becomes a magnet for more kids to get into the spelling bee competitions.

Based on this year’s outcome, kids of South Asian descent, especially those with Indian heritage, will continue to dominate the spelling bee in the foreseeable future. Their accomplishment and dominance have attracted some ugly attacks from social media: “The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN”; “No American sounding names who won the spelling B. #sad#fail”; “We need an american to win this spelling bee #tiredofindians.”

These attacks are really stupid, to say the least. These kids are either born here or became naturalized citizens with their parents. They are Americans. Spelling bees are some of the fairest competitions because each participant competes against a dictionary. The same opportunity is open to anyone of any race and ethnicity. No “supremacy” or “privilege” of any kind will ensure success. You either know how to spell a word or you don’t — there is no grey area.

These Indian-American kids deserve to win because they earn it, and their achievement exemplifies what’s best about our country—we are a largely meritocratic society where any individual and any community can be successful if they put their minds and efforts to it.

Politicians, educators, social engineers, and leaders from other communities should draw inspiration from Indian-Americans. Whenever we talk about how to improve public education and close the achievement gaps among different racial groups in the United States, the left’s standard answers tend to involve blaming white privilege, historical racism, and lack of spending. Very little time is spent on looking inward and discussing how to create a culture that fosters learning, values education, and involves adult and community support.

While individual prejudice and discrimination do exist, Indian-American kids’ progress from underperforming in English to dominating in spelling bee competitions in two decades shows that it’s dishonest to blame institutional bias or privilege for the dismal education outcomes in certain racial and ethnic communities in the United States. Any individual and any community in the United States can thrive if they follow Indian-Americans’ time-tested formula: success equals personal dedication, family commitment, cultural acceptance, and community support.

Family Sacrifice Is Part of Their Successful Culture

The emphasis on education means spelling bee competitions are usually a family commitment. Akash’s mom gave up her job to homeschool him when he was two years old. Like any other sports, parents sometimes have to drive for hours and even take time off to take their kids to regional and national competitions. Siblings help too. Rishik’s older brother, Rutvick, who competed in spelling competitions too, drilled Rishik on new words and provided feedback about his younger brother’s presentation style.

In addition to hard work and a culture that values education and family commitment, one unique factor of these kids’ success is community support. Their dominance today makes it hard to believe that Indian-American kids hadn’t always been good at spelling. Once upon a time, they consistently outperformed in every subject except English.

After Balu Natarajan became the first Indian American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1985, Indian-Americans like Ratnam Chitturi, who founded the North South Foundation (NSF) in 1989, believed that getting kids excited about spelling bee competitions would be a good way to improve their English language skills. NSF organized its first spelling bee competition in 1993.

Today, NSF has more than 90 chapters in the United States. These chapters organize annual Regional Education Contests in spelling, vocabulary, math, essay writing, public speaking, and geography. Winners of these contests are invited to the NSF’s National Finals, where champions receive scholarshipsto college.

The 2002 documentary, “Spellbound,” which follows eight competitors in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, really fired up Indian-Americans’ enthusiasm because one of the competitors—Nupur Lala, an Indian American girl—beat David Lewandowski and won the 1999 national title. Lala became a household name among Indian-Americans, and inspired many kids to follow in her footsteps.

Enthusiasm for Achievement Sparks New Institutions

To meet the growing demand, Rahul Walia launched the South Asian Spelling Bee in 2008, a platform focusing on spelling bee training and organizing annual competitions in the United States for children of South Asian descent. Its regional and national competitions are covered by South Asian-focused news media.

Adults in the community have also set up tutoring centers, summer camps, software, and study materials to train young spellers to get better and raise the bar of the competition. Each year, many kids of South Asian descent who qualified for the National Scripps Spelling Bee finals are alumni of NSF and South Asian Spelling Bee competitions.

These community-level competitions (nicknamed “minor league”) and the media coverage have turned spelling bees into a popular sport within South Asian American communities. Kids who win national titles are celebrities. Just about no one in the community laughs at them being nerds. Instead, they are respected and admired, like Olympic gold medalists or Nobel laureates. Their performances have been recorded and watched over and over again like popular TV shows. Their success becomes a magnet for more kids to get into the spelling bee competitions.

Based on this year’s outcome, kids of South Asian descent, especially those with Indian heritage, will continue to dominate the spelling bee in the foreseeable future. Their accomplishment and dominance have attracted some ugly attacks from social media: “The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN”; “No American sounding names who won the spelling B. #sad#fail”; “We need an american to win this spelling bee #tiredofindians.”

These attacks are really stupid, to say the least. These kids are either born here or became naturalized citizens with their parents. They are Americans. Spelling bees are some of the fairest competitions because each participant competes against a dictionary. The same opportunity is open to anyone of any race and ethnicity. No “supremacy” or “privilege” of any kind will ensure success. You either know how to spell a word or you don’t — there is no grey area.

These Indian-American kids deserve to win because they earn it, and their achievement exemplifies what’s best about our country—we are a largely meritocratic society where any individual and any community can be successful if they put their minds and efforts to it.

Politicians, educators, social engineers, and leaders from other communities should draw inspiration from Indian-Americans. Whenever we talk about how to improve public education and close the achievement gaps among different racial groups in the United States, the left’s standard answers tend to involve blaming white privilege, historical racism, and lack of spending. Very little time is spent on looking inward and discussing how to create a culture that fosters learning, values education, and involves adult and community support.

While individual prejudice and discrimination do exist, Indian-American kids’ progress from underperforming in English to dominating in spelling bee competitions in two decades shows that it’s dishonest to blame institutional bias or privilege for the dismal education outcomes in certain racial and ethnic communities in the United States. Any individual and any community in the United States can thrive if they follow Indian-Americans’ time-tested formula: success equals personal dedication, family commitment, cultural acceptance, and community support.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.