Remembering Sylvia Bingham
It is with great sorrow that we post this in memory of Syvia Bingham. Sylvia was a former Next Generation student activist and Terra Linda High student. Sylvia, age 22, was killed while riding her bicycle to work in Cleveland on September 15, 2009. A recent Yale graduate and an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Sylvia was passionate about social justice and cycling, and was riding that day to her work at Hard Hatted Women, to empower women to achieve economic independence by creating workplace diversity in trade and technical careers. Following is a piece written by Roni Krouzman, Next Generation founder, who worked with Sylvia while she was a student at Terra Linda High.
Like so many people, I was stunned and deeply saddened by the news of Sylvia’s death. I’ve been putting off writing this, in part because I fear it will bring me to that place of grief yet again – and in part because I’m not sure what I can write that could do Sylvia Bingham, or how I felt about her, justice.
But if there are two of many things Sylvia reminded me and reminded all of us by her example was to keep our hearts open even in the face of great pain. And to do our best. So I will try.
I first met Sylvia early in 2003, when I was helping students to organize against the then proposed US war against Iraq. She was a student at Terra Linda High School at the time, and she joined our then fledgling coalition of students working for peace.
For the next few years, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Sylvia, supporting her efforts to work for peace and justice and organize her peers to do the same. I saw her plan meetings and speak at protests, and she quickly became a leader in the youth empowerment organization, Next Generation, that those initial anti-war protests grew in to.
I was always inspired by Sylvia, yet it is only now after Sylvia’s death that I’m realizing the extent to which I loved and was moved by her.
I remember the thoughtfulness, courage and integrity Sylvia always showed when coming to me for support on how to organize fellow students. I remember her unflagging optimism, her huge heart, and her stunning intellect. I remember how sweet she was, how interesting, how sophisticated, a deep, old soul.
I remember the lightness, playfulness and creativity Sylvia would bring to our work as well. Once during a break in a Next Generation Board of Directors meeting, Sylvia sat down at a piano and began to play the theme song to the French movie, ‘Amelie.’ We sat together and made up absurd lyrics involving each of the Board members. I doubt I’ve ever had more fun at a Board meeting.
Sylvia made things fun. She reminded us that even school or activism or work did not have to be boring or too hard. And she was kind, so very kind, even in the face of political issues that make many people’s blood boil. And she taught by example. Oh what a difference that makes in this world!
I’ve thought about Sylvia since her death: how could someone be class valedictorian AND class rebel AND class fashionista AND the nicest girl in school AND probably one of the most playful? Any one of these traits – intelligence, creativity, lightness, kindness, a commitment to social justice – is noble. To possess all five is mind-boggling: that’s what most of us spend a lifetime trying to achieve. And here Sylvia embodied so much of it by age 17!
Recently, I’ve had a spiritual revival of sorts: for the first time since a very young age, I am coming to believe once again that there is an unseen order in the universe. That we are all held and taken care of in some way in this good place.
My how Sylvia’s death has challenged that belief. How could God or Spirit or whatever benevolent force there is out there rob such a precious being of her life at such a young age?
Well I don’t know what happens when we die. But I do believe we are here for a purpose, and to learn some central lessons. I’m not sure Sylvia achieved her full purpose. Yet perhaps there was nothing truly fundamental left for her to learn. Perhaps, then, she was re-assigned a new mission.
I can imagine Sylvia now looking down on us. I imagine her at peace. I imagine her sweetly shining her love upon us. I imagine her knitting with the Gods and angels of the Social Justice Committee of the Universe, Milky Way Subcommittee, making plans to bring order to the fourth quadrant of the galaxy, perhaps forge a stronger connection with the Andromedans.
I can only imagine what Sylvia would have done with her life here on Earth. I used to tell her I thought she’d be a future US Senator, and that I’d serve on her election campaign committee. But politics probably would have been too small for someone so noble. I’m sure she had far greater things in store.
Yet wherever Sylvia is now, and however brief was her life on this planet, Sylvia’s death is a bright example of so much of what she stood for and perhaps more importantly, modeled: that small, thoughtful actions do make a difference. Every act of kindness Sylvia showed, every act of courage, every act of creativity and love not only affected me deeply, it affected so many other people around her, and it rippled outward into her school and her community, and it will continue to ripple outward for eternity.
I love you Sylvia. Blessings to you and your family. Your love and courage and kindness and grace will always inspire me and they will make a difference for eternity. It was an honor to know you in this life. I’ll miss you.