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I Carry Her with Me
I’ve always been a fighter and protector at my core, and I cannot tolerate injustice of any kind towards a woman. Fortunately, I had a father that fostered that kind of character in me, which I am quite grateful for. In high school I was always looking for a fight, typically for the sake of some girl’s honor. In my twenties I was the guy the female bar tenders called on when a girl was being harassed. I would gladly jump across the bar and deal with any man that had the indecency to disrespect a woman. My motives were pure, but the methodology was obviously lacking, and ultimately landed me in jail on numerous occasions.
Over the years I’ve learned to channel that physical energy into more productive methods of standing against gender violence, which I believe to be the greatest of all injustices. It carries with it the power to destroy us all on the deepest level. I believe women are the heart of humanity, and as a man, it is my duty and privilege to respect and protect them to the best of my ability.
I struggled enormously with drug and alcohol abuse from adolescence on into early adulthood. I was always pushing the limits and running from life, yet I retained this burning desire to fight for the oppressed. I had plenty of time in jail cells or in a drunken haze to contemplate the meaning of life. In late 2005 I had reached the end of my rope. This lowly existence was killing me inside. I had this never ending hunger for something more that I desperately needed to feed.
In January of 2006 I left a partnership in a private equity firm in Nashville, TN, gave away all of my belongings and by March 13th, 2006 I was standing in Rwanda, Africa. I had dreamed of living in Africa my whole life, and desperately needed something to believe in again. I wanted to teach business to abused women so they could provide for their families and free themselves from gender based violence and oppression. I wanted to help them find the freedom they deserved.
Three days after stepping onto African soil, I met a group of 23 prostitutes, all determined to fight their way out of the sex trade. They had been sexually abused since childhood; conditioned to believe they were worthless. They were afforded no opportunities to make an income or experience any sort of normalcy or equality. The majority of them had multiple children as a result of years of rape. They were living through hell on earth, ready to take charge of their lives and needed a way out. They just needed someone to take the time to teach them, believe in them, and fight for them.
I immediately connected with Virginia and her children. At 23 years old, she was an unlikely, but quite capable ring leader of the group. She reminded me of myself when I was younger; full of energy and refusing to accept what life had handed her as her only option. Her two children, Deborah (3) and Gigi (1) were captivating; so pure, so unsuspecting, and seemingly happy despite the tragic reality surrounding them.
In Deborah I saw innocence and beauty like I’d never witnessed before. Everything changed from the moment I met her. I don’t know why exactly. Somehow my fight for this ambiguous “cause” had culminated in this precious little girl. Everything became real and human for the first time. My fight was no longer for a cause; my commitment was for her, and all those like her.
The thought of Deborah being abused in any way still invokes a wave of rage inside me. I struggle with that rage – the default emotion of many men in grief -- but I am learning to harness it and use it for good. My love for her and will to protect her consumes me at times. I could not bear to see her suffer, nor could I ever abandon her. Little Deborah Mutesi, now six years old, represents everything I’m fighting for. She is the heart line that drives me.
Our family has grown now to 40 women and over 100 children. As I travel the world raising support, selling their handmade jewelry and telling their stories, I try to provide a window into their lives. I ask people in the states what they would do for their own daughter, to protect and care for her. Would they do the same for their niece or their neighbor’s daughter? What about a little African girl? “How far removed from you must she be in order for you to disassociate?” I ask. She’s a real little girl with feelings, hopes and dreams just like any other. She’s not a photo or a statistic. She’s not a cause. She is Deborah Mutesi. She wants to play with her brother, go to school and wear dresses. She cries, she hurts, and she laughs. She dreams and likes candy. And her smile….it is that of an angel; as if she were a window into humanity, representing who we were all supposed to be.
Deborah is etched into my soul forever. She is my inspiration. I thank God that I have been afforded the opportunity to serve and protect her and that I no longer fight for a cause. I fight for Debora; I carry her with me.
Jared N Miller, a long time business developer, marketing consultant and philanthropist, is a former partner of The Incubator Group, a private equity firm based in his home town of Nashville, TN. He believes in the power of “ubuntu” and has committed his life to perpetuating the philosophy that we are all interconnected and not fully human alone. We were created for community.
Miller spent many of his younger years volunteering and lobbying for such organizations as The ONE Campaign, Save Darfur Coalition, and Keep A Child Alive. In March of 2006 he moved to Kigali, Rwanda and has been residing there since. Mr. Miller has developed and facilitated poverty reduction and gender equality programs in East Africa for over a decade. His quest is to help create an egalitarian society worldwide.
Miller is the founder and President of KEZA, a non profit “People Inspired Fashion” consulting agency. KEZA helps develop women’s cooperatives in Africa by turning them into sustainable and profitable businesses for the women that own them. Miller says, “The women of Africa are just as capable of running a successful business and creating luxury fashion products as the best fashion companies in Milan”. His first success is BURANGA Women’s Cooperative, currently creating the KEZA beaded jewelry seen in such magazines as “O”, and featured in high end boutiques across the US.
He is also the creator of Ubuntu Revolution, an “African Gender Equality Movement” of media, culture and sports. The purpose of the movement is to target the male role in gender disparity and combat violence and oppression towards women and girls. “It is time we get to the root of gender based violence; and that is the men that are carrying it out. And we must inspire them to change their ways, not demand it”, says Miller. He is currently working with a number of gender equality focused organizations and individuals to implement the program in East Africa.