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Matthew Tedesco headshot

Matthew Tedesco

At an early age, Matthew Tedesco saw his mother navigate, and survive, conditions of poverty. He was two when his parents divorced and his mother was left to find her way alone. “My mother worked as a waitress and moved us into a small apartment with a woman named Ms. Best and her three sons,” says Matt. The neighborhood where they lived had serious unmet needs and was scary for everybody. His mother was determined to get them out.

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Arssha Cazazian-Clement headshot

Arsha Cazazian-Clement

Arsha Cazazian-Clement’s parents grew up in Romania and raised her in Queens and Long Island, NY, where Arsha went to Armenian Summer Camp. There, she encountered Armenians who were French, Nigerian, Iranian, Syrian, and Dutch. “They each came with their own distinct stories and preferences toward things like fashion, art,” recalls Arsha. “Although we were all Armenian, we were very different. Eight weeks every summer for a decade, we integrated and mixed and shared our stories and photos.”

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Cindy Chastain headshot

Cindy Chastain

Until third grade, Cindy Chastain knew only suburban Kansas, where people looked and sounded like her. Then her family took a trip to Dublin and Cindy befriended the children who lived in the B&B. “They spoke differently, they played different games. While it was a third grader’s experience of the world,” says Cindy. “My view of what was out there completely shifted.”

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Diana Amoa headshot

Diana Amoa

At age 19, Diana Amoa left her home country, Kenya to attend college in the UK. Her parents had raised her to feel at home in the world. “One of my flat mates was fascinated by me,” Diana remembers. “I was the first Black person they ever met. We ended up becoming the best of friends because they approached our connection from a place of curiosity.”

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Kathy Shirin Benemann headshot

Kathy Shirin Benemann

Kathy Benemann experienced a culturally rich and diverse upbringing in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Ethnically Iranian, Kathy studied Farsi as a child, enjoyed Palestinian festivals, and celebrated Persian new year’s. Her adoptive parents are white but they engendered Kathy’s connection to her Persian heritage.

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Melroy Patterson headshot

Melroy Patterson, Jr.

Melroy Patterson, Jr. was in eighth grade when he learned about structures that keep oppressive systems in place, including in our minds. “It is not in the interests of the oppressors to help the oppressed,” says Melroy. “If I was a kid getting all those benefits, why would I give that up?” Melroy grew up negotiating bias and aggression, and yet this revelation made it clear where the responsibility lay for systems change. His first day of ninth grade, he faced mob of white classmates wielding hay forks who terrorized the school’s first Black incoming students.

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Mila Petrova headshot

Mila Petrova

Mila Petrova came to the United States from Eastern Europe to go to college. Her education included her first exposure to prejudice and bias. “My roommate had never traveled out of her state—home was all she knew,” remembers Mila, who describes “a bit of a clash right there at the beginning.” Having come from a country that was “very closed and limited in terms of information,” Mila was surprised to find people with many choices who would shut out the world. “Openness should be an instinct,” says Mila, who searched for her people and quickly found them: fellow world travelers.

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Oorlagh George

Oorlagh George’s parents fled Northern Island as political activists and relocated to the Bronx, NY, when she was a child. “That community formed my sense of being an American—it meant being Puerto Rican, Jewish, Irish, Jamaican,” she recalls. During college, she traveled and expanded her awareness of the ways young people experience privilege, power, voice, and responsibility in diverse political and geographical locations.

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Scott Hefter headshot

Scott Hefter

Scott Hefter became a student again in 2019. “It was phenomenal,” he says, describing the year he and his wife spent as Fellows in the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University. For professionals ready to pivot late-career into social impact fields, the program draws people from across the globe in a cross cultural exploration of issues demanding attention. “After 30 years in management consulting, including some government work in criminal justice reform, veteran health care, and the impact of the Gulf oil spill, I developed a passion for the social impact space.”

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Zainab Wadood headshot

Zainab Wadood

Zainab Wadood was eight years old, growing up in South Africa, when an audiologist recommended hearing aids—huge devices, at the time, that would have encircled her head. “When he showed my parents, my father was like, no,” says Zainab, who progressed through elementary, secondary and even higher education, consumed by the constant effort to catch up. A college professor and supervisor noticed the issue and asked her to see an ENT. “After I got out of the booth, the technician said to me, ‘How did you get through your life?’”

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