To me, TOMS serves as a daily reminder that people can make a difference; whether you are a company, a community group, educator, or student. It's all too easy to take things for granted, especially as a college student. We get so caught up in academics and our social lives that we often neglect to even appreciate the privilege of having shoes on our feet on our trek to class. But this doesn't have to mean that as students, we can't turn our visions into concrete actions. The TOMS movement has truly humbled me by increasing my awareness of basic human rights and needs, and I have recognized the inherent joy in paying it forward, one pair of shoes or eyeglasses at a time.
As an International Studies major, my courses have further assisted me in developing my passion for human rights. When I learn about international social issues, cultures of poverty, and the politics of progress, I understand more clearly how organizations play significantly large roles within the global system. Contrary to what you may sometimes see in the news, I believe that companies can be forces for good because they have both the potential and the responsibility to make sound social choices while giving back in some way. In less than a decade, one man's desire to make a difference has transformed so many lives; in 2010, TOMS gifted their one-millionth pair of shoes. This success story is one that transcends borders; engaged citizens all over the world contributed directly by connecting globally through the TOMS movement.
While actively trying to represent a positive role model as the President of the TOMS Campus Club at Ohio State, I have similarly forged connections with clubs across campus, ranging from faculty members to finance students. These connections with internationally recognized groups like Partners in Health, have emphasized the universal theme of TOMS Shoes. We are not just students, or faculty members, university presidents, or CEOs; instead, we are all united as human beings who understand the power of a pair of shoes and the health risks associated with not having proper footwear. With shoes on our feet, we can go out and conquer the world. We can attend classes, garner an education, and pursue our dreams, inspiring the next generation of children to do the same.
At a school with literally thousands of students, I have repeatedly found that simply spotting someone in TOMS is both an instant talking point and a friendship; wearing them is enough to inspire people to do something. People wear them, talk about them, and proudly portray TOMS in their daily lives. As both a mission and a movement, the giving aspect of TOMS makes them more than just a fashionable product. By creating both a portable movement and a practical plan, TOMS has cultivated a generation of supporters who have moved away from being the "me" generation and extended a helping hand. People everywhere have begun to recognize that such a simple concept can have a resounding impact.
But maybe you're still skeptical about going shoeless. I don't blame you. Some people have and will continue to call me barefoot and crazy. Springtime in the Midwest isn't the warmest weather and I cannot promise you that it will be comfortable for your toes. Despite all of this, I will continue to go barefoot every year for One Day Without Shoes. Why? Because it has always been about more than shoes. I walk to get people talking, connecting, and giving. By simply using a conversation to sustain an impact, I can both advocate and educate. I personally have never experienced the uncertainty of an upcoming meal, the hardship of wearing only one pair of shoes to shreds, or praying daily for a chance at an education. For this I am blessed and privileged, and everyday I hope that fewer and fewer children will have to confront these harsh realities.
In the meantime, I will walk barefoot so that someday, they won't have to. For one day each year, I completely step out of my comfort zone and expose myself to the environment. For one day, I am directly impacted by those sharp cracks on the sidewalk and that rough uphill terrain. My toes freeze, my heels ache, but my eyes and heart are open. The awareness of each and every step inspires me to place myself in someone else's situation for one day. I am asked questions about my bare feet, and I can provide information and inspiration in return. For one day, I can change my pace and understand a fraction of how these children feel everyday, while knowing what we must do to ignite lasting change. Across campuses, across our country and across the globe, join me on April 16th so that you can feel the need for change, too.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and TOMS, in recognition of One Day Without Shoes, an annual day to bring global awareness to children's health and education by going without shoes. For more information, visit OneDayWithoutShoes.com