Paul Loeb speaks at Viterbo


By Melissa Vach

Arts and Entertainment Editor


    “If we’re gonna tackle big problems, like global climate change, we need to work together,” Paul Loeb told an audience of roughly 500 students and community members scattered throughout the Viterbo Fine Arts Center Main Theatre on Sept. 12. 

     Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen, The Impossible Will Take A Little While, and Generation at the Crossroads, provided stories of famous and everyday people in a speech that asked how individuals can become involved in social justice and work toward a desired change. 

     Loeb spoke as part of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership series. His book Soul of a Citizen was read in the 300-level mission seminar classes in the fall and spring of 2012-13.

     “I use [Rosa Parks] because people think they know her,” Loeb began. 

     Parks was an African-American woman who became famous for her refusal to give up her seat at the front of a public bus to a white person.

     Loeb explained how it had “troubled him” when he had seen a CNN broadcast one year that portrayed Parks’ action as something sudden, as if “she acted accidentally and then boom, history changes.”

     Loeb insisted that was not the case. “We don’t start full-fledged, we grow into [leadership],” he said. It was an idea that would repeat throughout his presentation.

     “[Parks] had taken training sessions before, been part of an existing movement. She didn’t know what would happen, but she initiated change.”

      Loeb also shared the story of a young woman named Nadda who participated in the Egyptian Spring of 2011. The Egyptian Spring was a revolt by Egyptians against the rule of then-president Hosni Mubarak. 

     “It was a dictatorship where people were snatched off the street and beaten,” Loeb said of Mubarak. “But I remember Nadda said, ‘I had to,’” Loeb said of his questions about why Nadda decided to participate. 

     “One person’s courage inspires another,” Loeb said, quoting Nelson Mandela. 

     Mandela was a former president of South Africa as well as a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

     “Think about the impact everyone else is bringing in. You don’t know who you’ll inspire. To me, that’s the true source of hope,” he said, encouraging that, “Whatever the challenge, bring in unlikely people.”

     Loeb emphasized that no one is perfect, and that no one needs to be perfect to start a chain reaction of social justice. “We have to let that [idea] go,” he said, stating that people usually think in terms of “all or nothing; either we are Rosa Parks or we are not.

     “I would ask [college students], are you involved in elections?” Loeb recalled of his times visiting universities during election periods. “I would always hear, ‘My vote doesn’t matter anyway.’” Loeb figured that,  “The election may as well be on the moon.”

    “Hold officials accountable,” Loeb said, and remain “persistent.”

     His closing words were, “Whatever [project] you’re doing, savor it. In the course of that, you find out what it is to be human.”

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