Growing up mixed race in a predominantly white environment, Sophia Blijden felt different from her peers and never fully understood why. Fortunately, during college, and specifically through meeting her now dear friend (and fellow Humanity in Action Senior Fellow) Sharona Badloe, she discovered she was not alone. Sophia found the words to express herself, and discovered how to situate her personal struggles within a wider, cultural frame. The Humanity in Action Fellowship, then, proved to be a logical next step on Sophia’s journey of understanding society’s different elements, and figuring out how to use her creativity to make a difference.
“I already knew I had a voice, but Humanity in Action showed me how to make others listen to it.”
During the Fellowship, Sophia gradually came to realize that what she had to say was equally as important as what other people thought, despite it being expressed differently, for example through the arts. She learned to access her creativity and use it to express herself and give a voice to other women. Sophia remembers one workshop in particular; on the Theatre of the Oppressed by David Limaverde. The workshop inspired her and other Fellows to write a short play, in which different women shared their perspectives on ‘womanhood’. For Sophia, it was a breath of fresh air from the polarizing academic and political discussions taking place at that time. It was hereby that she truly realized the power of storytelling.
The Fellowship, therefore, allowed Sophia to express herself. It taught her that in life you don’t have to wait around for others to take action. You can be the one to jump to your feet and lead the way.
So much so, that she and Fellow Sharona Badloe felt called to give more women that same space. They translated the short play ‘Stories of Womanhood’ into their Action Project and organized a night during which women from a diverse set of backgrounds told their stories through film, spoken word, theatre and music. Sophia’s aim was for visitors to leave the gatherings feeling inspired, empowered and connected.
Following the Fellowship, Sophia began a career at The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, where she is now committed to closing the gap between science and society. Humanity in Action showed her that in every aspect of our society we need to strive for diversity, and stay critical in our own work. That is why within her position as government advisor on academic policies, too, she finds diversity and inclusivity of great importance. Sophia, furthermore, wielded her new-found ability of using creativity to tell a story to extend her Action Project ‘Stories of Womanhood’ into a series.
“The Fellowship inspired me to step out of my comfort zone, whilst staying true to myself.”
Looking back, it was not until she began working on her Action Project for Humanity in Action that she realized that she, too, could use her voice to make a difference. The Fellowship, therefore, allowed Sophia to express herself. It taught her that in life you don’t have to wait around for others to take action. You can be the one to jump to your feet and lead the way.
Sophia hopes that one day we can live beyond the cultural norms that bind us. She wishes for us to live in a world where we can express, love, and be ourselves freely, without limitations. A world of empathy and love.