ELON – America’s leading advocacy journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn visited Elon University Thursday as part of Fall Convocation’s Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series.
Their visit rides on the heels of the release of their new book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, in which they hope to encourage readers that everyone has the capacity to make a difference in the world, WuDunn told an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members.
The husband-and-wife pair, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for their coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests, provided numerous examples of the ways in which a small act of generosity can change lives.
The ripple effect is one of the easiest ways to give back, Kristof said. For example, because of the generosity and goodwill of a grade school librarian, he said, a student was able to use literature to learn, and later become one of the first African American lawyers in Arkansas and a champion of the civil rights movement.
“The greatest inequality isn’t in money, it’s in opportunity,” WuDunn said. As advocates of change at home and abroad, Kristof and WuDunn have made it their life’s work to share stories of struggle and success. One such story was experienced first-hand when the pair’s daughter was a young girl. Jessica, a classmate and friend of their daughter, was a troubled child and teen. She was often suspended from school for violence or carelessness. The couple realized Jessica’s bad behavior resulted from bad parenting in the early stages of her life.
“A child of professionals by age four has heard 30 million more words than a child with parents on welfare,” WuDunn said. Interventions are coming too late, she said, because a child who doesn’t receive love and care from a parent by the age of five is already on a damaged path.
One way to intervene early, WuDunn said, is to participate in programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. This program pairs disadvantaged mothers with nurses who will check up on them during pregnancy and shortly after giving birth—the most impressionable time in a child’s life, WuDunn said.
“Importance in education is indeed the best escalator out of poverty,” Kristof said. But sometimes, he said, in the places that need it most, the escalator is broken.
Sadly, said Kristof, sometimes the inequality gap in the United States can be attributed to the idea Americans have that the poor are to blame for their own poverty.
“One of the challenges is overcoming the empathy gap,” he said. Kristof and WuDunn’s new PBS documentary series sets out to overcome this challenge by taking celebrities and public figures to developing countries to understand what must be done to incite change and garner hope.
Kristof and WuDunn are adamant that “a drop in the bucket” is sometimes all it takes to make a difference.