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City Year Founding Story: Be the Change

Photo by Emma Mattesky

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian nationalist movement, which overthrew British colonial rule through non-violence, leading to the creation of a sovereign Indian nation in 1947.

As a change agent, he lived his life based on the principles of courage, non-violence, and truth. Much of his power drew from his commitment to embodying these principles in his own life. Gandhi believed that there were three routes to social change: the ballot (the process of voting and elections), the jail (by which he meant civil disobedience—being willing to give up your personal freedom to protest an unjust law or society), and the spinning wheel (which represented self-sustainability, nonparticipation in economic oppression, and simplicity.)

He embodied his commitment to these pathways of change by living a simple life, renouncing personal belongings. Gandhi spun the thread to make his own clothing, thus making the symbol of the spinning wheel a reality in his own life. Additionally, he led thousands of people in non-violent civil disobedience, or satyagraha, for which he was arrested many times throughout his life.

Perhaps the most famous example of satyagraha—and being the change he wished to see in the world–was the Salt March of 1930, a march to protest the British salt tax that had legalized starvation-level taxation for many Indians. The attention of the world was galvanized as Gandhi and his fellow marchers, which began as a group of 79 and grew to thousands, marched 240 miles to the coast. Scooping up handfuls of mud and salt, Gandhi announced to the crowd: “With this salt I am shaking the foundations of an empire.”

Gandhi’s life is a powerful example of what can be accomplished through living the change you wish to see in the world.

About the Artist: New Orleans native Emma Mattesky is a senior at Tulane University. She took this photograph at a school just outside Accra, Ghana where the members of her development studies class visited for a day to help build a church, tour a medical facility, and donate books to the school library. This photo includes a few of the students who helped paint the mural.