commentary

50 Years and a Million Dreams

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice

On May 22, 1969, I was born in Karipuzha, Kerala, India to two remarkable people with humble beginnings, T.K. Samuel and Ammukutty Simon. My Mom was just 18 years old and my Dad 25 and they had been married less than a year when I was born. My father was a wonderful dreamer and my Mom a woman of great faith – the perfect combination for a remarkable world and future ahead. Two months later, in July 1969, the U.S. put a man on the moon – and that was inspiration for my Dad to embark on his lifelong dream to journey from India to the United States.  

Two years later, my Dad arrived in Ohio to do his master's studies. It was a difficult time with three heavy jobs and a heavy course load to finish two master's degrees in electrical and industrial engineering in just two years.  He was away from our family the whole time.

When I was four years old, my Mom made the trek from India to New York with me and my two year old brother, Koshy, to meet my Dad. From there we went to Ontario, Canada where my Dad had his first job and would start our new life together. As a project manager he moved around the country to do his work. That meant that our family moved about every six months and I attended 12 different schools before I was in 6th grade. With all the moving, our family built a strong bond with each other. My brother was my first and closest childhood friend. A few years later, my sister, Mary (Annie) was born — I felt like a second mom to her and we have maintained a strong and special bond through the years. But we also met many other friends in many locations along the way.

When I was nine years old, we moved to Mound, Minnesota on beautiful Lake Minnetonka – a fulfillment of my Dad’s lifelong dream to live in America. We started a new and wonderful life there and finally had a place to truly call home.  We began attending a wonderful church, Mound Evangelical Free Church. Pastor Tom Jensen has been a key figure for our family and is the one who baptized me when I was 21. 

Our friendships in MN grew to be more like extended family – with many of my dearest friends still from my grade school years in Mound. With wonderful teachers and early leadership opportunities, I had many great experiences such as the Mentor Connection, a program that allowed me at just 16 years old to write a play on juvenile delinquency and have it presented at the Playwright Center. I served as the Captain of the cross-country and track teams, and Student Senate President.  I graduated as my Senior Class President and had the blessing of sharing a baccalaureate address to my classmates as well as welcome remarks at graduation.  I am grateful for my educational foundation in Minnesota -- especially at Hilltop Elementary, Grandview Middle School, and Mound Westonka High School. 

But my heart was always in the international, and that led me after high school to college at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service drew so many amazing students, faculty, and global leaders.  I served as Chair of the GU Student Association and of the Student Activities Commission and so appreciated my mentor Dr. Penny Rue. It was a great training ground not only for my future work, but for my life and relationships that would follow. My Georgetown friends remain among my dearest and some of the most accomplished people I know.

Following college, I took a summer backpack adventure through Europe with a college housemate, Anna. We explored Spain, France, & Italy — especially the art and culture of each. I would return to these places years later with fond memories of these earlier adventures.

I returned from these travel experiences to working for three years -- in public affairs in Washington, DC, at a law firm in San Francisco, and in public relations and media in Minneapolis. I gained many great professional experiences and more wonderful friends.  My first job after college was at Public Affairs Group in D.C. – such a great place for a “trial by fire.”  I’ll forever be grateful to Edie Fraser for preparing me professionally.  I had many highlights including preparing remarks for President Boris Yeltsin to present to the Federal Reserve Board. 

Later I continued my career in San Francisco working with a large law firm. I lived with two remarkably talented, musical friends, Josh and Marty, who were like brothers to me. It was one of the happiest years of my life with tremendous friends, experiences, and fond memories.

A year later I was in Minneapolis working with a law firm and later in public relations for Star Tribune/ Cowles Media. During that time I had the distinct opportunity of helping to coordinate a visit with President Bill Clinton at Cowles Media – quite a moment for a 20-something.

Thereafter, I started law school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis while living in St. Paul. My law school years were challenging and significant – preparing me for my future and the goals that I had to serve and make an impact on the world. Prof. David Weissbrodt and Prof. john powell were among my key mentors for human rights and civil rights. I was blessed to work with john at the Institute on Race & Poverty and with David at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland where I served as a Human Rights Fellow.  It was a tremendous opportunity to see the world and world changers in action. 

I continued to work with David and other human rights leaders after law school while directing and developing programs for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. I conducted the Mexico Project addressing poverty, health, and police brutality; served as a lead researcher for a three country study on child survival; and addressed concerns of the death penalty and other key human rights issues. 

But my career and my life took an abrupt turn, when in February 1999, my father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. He was just 54. As the most visionary person that I had known, and the center and leader of our family, my father's passing left an incredible mark on my family. While we endured, persevered, and accomplished much after his passing -- he has been missed each and every day while we strive to realize his dreams through our own. 

The years that followed, I focused on pursuing human rights as my goal and calling.  I worked in Washington, DC with the International Human Rights Law Group addressing racial discrimination in the United States. We took a first ever delegation of experts -- including Charles Ogletree, George Kendall, and William Moffett -- to the U.N. to present on racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and related concerns. 

But in the midst of my human rights work, God presented something totally unexpected – a chance meeting during a visit to Lake Minnetonka with a California Air Force Captain, based in Mississippi, named Zack Burnett. Little did I know that just six months later, Zack would propose while we stood at the top of a mountain in Garmisch, Austria. Then six months more and almost to the day of when we met, Zack would marry me on Lake Minnetonka (with Pastor Jensen officiating). The years that followed with Zack were among the most amazing of my life with experiences, friendships, and achievements across the country from Mississippi to California to Colorado. 

After our wedding, I moved to Mississippi in 2000. It was an opportunity to meet my new family including Zack’s Mom, Ada, and brother Jonathan. Zack was an instructor pilot at Columbus Air Force Base.  We met so many wonderful Air Force friends there. And we reunited with many of them years later in Colorado.  I worked with Waide & Associates, an employment law firm, in Tupelo, MS. I was grateful for the remarkable experience that Jim Waide gave me in helping lead and defend farmers in a class action law suit against a major corporation.

In 2001, we moved to Sacramento, California when Zack had an opportunity to become a U-2 pilot at Beale Air Force Base. We began a great and momentous life in that region. We again met so many wonderful Air Force friends that remain dear to us though scattered throughout the country and world now.  

But in September 2001, our life changed in a dramatic way, when 9/11 happened. Zack immediately became operational and was overseas for more than 280 days of the year.   We attended Adventure Christian Church in Roseville and that community was a great support to us. It was there in November 2001 that I was able to join with Pastor Don Brewster to baptize Zack. 

During our early years in California, I first worked in Oakland for the Institute for Food & Development Policy.  Thereafter, I directed the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. But in the post 9/11 era, I began to do some deep reflection. Zack and I desired to start a family when the world was right again. So I shifted my career and work to focus on that goal of starting family.

In the 10 additional years of life that followed in California, I stepped away from my "regular" work and began serving our church Adventure-Roseville and later n Sacramento at Adventure-North Natomas. We developed great friendships with Pastor Rick Stedman and Pastor Scott Mathews.  I especially helped ACCNN to build a missions program that served in India, Haiti, & Zimbabwe.  I served as the Chair of the Missions Program for a number of years and their work continue to flourish.

I also had the opportunity to serve on an advisory committee for William Jessup University, a Christian liberal arts institution that was moving to the region from San Jose. I could not have imagined where that opportunity would lead me in the years ahead. I proposed and developed the Public Policy Degree Program for WJU and then served on a search committee for the Chair of the Department. in the midst of the search, with the prompting of President Bryce Jessup, I took that role and served for nearly10 years as the Founder and Chair of the Public Policy Department and Public Policy Institute -- teaching and developing courses, advising and preparing students, supporting policy leaders, presenting in the media on key topics, and conducting numerous events with high level leaders to encourage community engagement. I was recognized with the Chairman award for my work with the Rocklin Chamber and with other organizations. I began serving as Board Director/Chair for Agape International Missions, under the leadership of our former pastor Don Brewster, as well as with a number of other advocacy and policy organizations. 

Truly these 50 years have been a million dreams come true. 
— Sosamma Samuel-Burnett

In the midst of our intensely active years in California, I had the blessing of having three remarkable children.  In 2005 after 58 hours of labor, my incredible first child Teddy arrived. Marianna & Anila were my wonderful surprise twin babies who arrived in 2010 by c-section -- not only doubling our family but our blessings. The children paralleled my experiences at WJU -- Teddy in tandem with the Public Policy Department and my girls with its twin Public Policy Institute. In the midst of the demands of children and work, Zack, now a Major in the Air Force, made a a tough decision to shift from military to the airlines. He joined Southwest Airlines in 2006.  He was based out of Oakland as we continued life in Sacramento and Rocklin, CA.  That shift prompted my years at WJU.

But in 2013, our family had another unexpected but incredible opportunity to move to Colorado. Zack had a short but important window to shift his Southwest Airlines base to Denver. In just one week, our fully settled life in Rocklin/Sacramento, CA was uprooted and we were on our way to Loveland, Colorado, another week later. The whirlwind move was unbelievable and challenging.  But very quickly we realized its significance.  

Just two weeks after arriving in Loveland, Zack was diagnosed with State 4 metasticized melanoma. We were shocked that this remarkably active and otherwise healthy man would then required a year of treatment and a year away from flying. Amazingly everything Zack needed was in Loveland and Denver.  It was a dramatic first year, but one that was so meaningful for our family and our faith. We are grateful to God that Zack returned to full health and flying at the end of that year, and remains strong. 

During that time, I prayed and thought about our life and the future. When I knew that Zack was going to be well again, I also prayed about the next steps in my career. I began putting together the foundations for something new.  Then in September 2014, I launched G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice – a culmination of my many professional experiences in advocacy, education, and policy for human rights and global concerns. 

G.L.O.B.A.L was intended to be a resource to the community to inform, impact, and inspire the generations to learn, lead, and do justice together. For nearly five years now, G.L.O.B.A.L. has been the focus of my professional purpose and calling. G.L.O.B.A.L. has grown through the years with remarkable Board, Staff, Experts, and Collaborators. I have appreciated many opportunities to teach and present at venues, events, and schools around the country -- especially at Northwest Christian University and Trinity Law School.  It has also been a privilege to serve as a Fellow at the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University as well as being involved with the Christian Legal Society and Christians in Political Science to be present my research at conferences.

I have enjoyed serving the Thompson School District and my children’s schools, Carrie Martin Elementary and Walt Clark Middle School.  I have also enjoyed being a part of Colorado based associations such as Colorado Women of Influence, Zonta Club of Fort Collins, and Northern Colorado Community, and collaborating with a range of organizations working around the world, including Life for the Innocent and Think Humanity. My family has been especially blessed to be a part of a great church, Grace Place, in Berthoud.

I was so grateful to receive the Dr. Joan B. King International Woman of Vision award from the Colorado Women of Influence in July 2018 and to be nominated for the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in January 2019.  I am so looking forward to celebrating G.L.O.B.A.L.’s fifth anniversary in September 2019.  

In these years in Colorado, our family and especially our children have grown. Teddy is a gifted, smart, and caring 14 year old who has such tremendous abilities in so many arenas. We were overjoyed that he was baptized this May.  Anila is a devoted, diligent, and intelligent 9 year old who has great focus and aspirations.  Marianna is a wonderfully brilliant and talented 9 year old who is artistic and kind hearted. In 2015, we gained another brother when my sister married Saiful. In 2016, we had our first niece with the arrival of Evelyn on Zack’s birthday. And in 2017, we had the blessing of hosting our family reunion in Colorado with more than 60 loved ones from my Dad’s side from around the U.S. and Canada. Zack and I are so grateful for all the ways that God has brought faith, family, friends, and community together in our lives.

And now on May 22 2019, we are gathering with so many of our family and friends to celebrate my 50th birthday! I am so grateful for this special day -- a half century milestone! -- but even more grateful for all the wonderful experiences, memories, and people who have been a part of my life, my work, and my story for the past 50 years. Thanks to each of them for their love and support. Truly these 50 years have been a million dreams come true. 

 To God be the Honor and the Glory! 

When Policy, Politics, and Principles Collide: A Review of Recent Border Enforcement and Human Rights Decisions

Policies work best when they are fair, consistent, and well implemented. Politics work best when they are representative and support effective policy. Principles work best when they are applied to both policy and politics to ensure just outcomes. But when these three interface, we often have tensions and challenges. That has especially been the case in the recent decisions of the Trump Administration relating to separating children from adults crossing the border and also in the recent decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The following provides some perspective on each of these decisions in light of recent policy, political, and principle challenges.

International Women's Day 2018: Value and Worth – Lauren Moustakas

International Women's Day 2018: Value and Worth – Lauren Moustakas

This International Women’s Day we celebrate women everywhere, the work that has been done to advance women’s rights, and the work that is currently being done to benefit women and girls globally. On this day especially, I am grateful for the women who have gone before me and the women who have shaped and influenced the woman I have become.

International Women's Day: Why, How, and Now in Achieving Women's Rights – Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD

International Women's Day: Why, How, and Now in Achieving Women's Rights – Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD

Women make up about half of the world’s population. Women provide the majority of resources, support, and services to men, other women, children, elderly, disabled, and others in their care. Women serve countless hours in the home and in the marketplace. And there is no man, woman, or child in this world that did not start their life through a woman who conceived, carried, and delivered that person into the world. So why is it that women are still facing disparity, discrimination, and abuse in political, social, and economic terms? On this International Women’s Day, let us take a closer look at the questions of “why?” but also the question of “how?” women can achieve human rights worldwide.

School Shootings: Prevention Priorities

School Shootings: Prevention Priorities

On Valentine’s Day 2018, my family was celebrating together at home and at our children’s schools. Cards, chocolates, flowers, and sentiments of love and affection abounded. But in the backdrop were news reports of the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — such a stark contrast from the Valentine’s Day sentiments and such a terrible loss of 17 lives.