One America Voices: Jazzalyn Livingston

Written by: Jazzalyn Livingston

National Program Director

Washington, DC

As a college student, you studied abroad in both Ethiopia and Greece. What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned while living in those countries?

In the summer of 2015, following my senior year of undergraduate at UC San Diego, I studied abroad in Athens, Greece, for five weeks. During this time, I lived in a small apartment just a few steps from the Kallimarmaro, the historic Panathenaic Stadium used to host the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. While in Greece, I was afforded the opportunity to briefly travel to Santorini, Turkey, Paris, and Kos. I explored the deep historical landscape of Greece, dating back to Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, known as the father of clinical medicine, where he developed the “Hippocratic Oath” that medical doctors still take today.

This experience expanded my worldview in various ways, beginning with my immersive studies of medical history, psychopharmacology, and neuroscience. I was fascinated by the rich cultural history of Athens, from the ancient ruins, Greek goddesses, democratic origins, world-renowned philosophers, and of course, the lamb gyros. Greece is the home of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Hippocrates, all of whom significantly influenced western philosophy in medicine, science, mathematics, art, and governance. The most valuable aspect of my experience in Greece was that it opened my eyes to a world of historical connections and inspired a future of great possibilities. 

While in graduate school, I had the great honor of studying abroad in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and it was certainly a dream come true. All my life, I longed to visit an African country due to my grappling feelings of being disconnected from my cultural ancestry. In transparency, I am unsure how deep the roots of my lineage go. The farthest I can trace my family heritage is to the origins of my maternal grandmother in the Delta of Greenwood, Mississippi. Beyond that knowledge, I have no deep connection to my family ancestry as a descendant of enslaved Africans. However, my time in Ethiopia bridged a closer relationship and emotional connection to my African ancestors.

I was fully immersed in the culture for over two weeks, exploring the historical and modern sites, enjoying local restaurants, and serving the needs of local community members. I was captivated by the incredible resiliency, and infectious joy shared amongst the Ethiopian people; it truly felt like I was home. One of my most valuable yet humbling experiences in Ethiopia was serving and connecting with the families of the Selamta Family Project. Selamta recreates and empowers Forever Families for orphaned and abandoned children in Ethiopia to be nurtured and raised by parental caregivers who have also suffered the devastating loss of their children. Despite the mutual tragedy that bridged their relationship, I was blessed to bear witness to their strength and love for one another. It was an honor to serve them by painting and renovating their homes, supplying them with academic resources, and listening to their stories. I am deeply grateful for my time in Ethiopia; it is an experience I will cherish forever.

You had the unique opportunity to work with people from the Kumeyaay tribe in southern California. How did your view of indigenous people change after that special time? 

For two years, I was privileged to serve seven consortium tribes of the Kumeyaay Nation in east San Diego as a Community Outreach Coordinator. This experience was humbling and eye-opening, to say the least. While in graduate school, I sought out opportunities to eliminate mental health disparities amongst marginalized communities that are often under-resourced and forgotten, including our Native American community. In my role, I provided trauma-informed therapeutic services emphasizing prevention to promote holistic mental and emotional health in the tribal community. I felt honored to partner with Native youth, young adults, and elders throughout their healing journey while being introduced to a wealth of indigenous practices retained historically and intergenerationally.

I deeply admire our indigenous community for preserving their traditional practices, re-narrating their cultural history, and displaying extraordinary resiliency in the face of historical triumph. I recognized that despite colonization, genocide, forcible assimilation of boarding schools, and land displacement of our indigenous Native American tribes to reservations, many had preserved their rich cultural traditions and heritage. I extend gratitude to the Kumeyaay community for trusting me with their vulnerabilities and personal stories, which expanded my awareness of the challenges indigenous communities have overcome and are still overcoming. This special time left a profound impact on my life as I remain committed to uplifting the narratives of our Native American communities and aim to contribute to their visibility by sharing their invaluable history. 

What made you decide to join the One America Movement Team? 

I was inspired to join the One America Movement team because of its mission to eliminate toxic polarization across religious, political, and racial divides. I live by the philosophy, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb reinforces my belief that to achieve significant change in our world, we must do it together. I believe that the One America Movement aligns with my values of unifying communities, celebrating diversity, and committing to being the change we seek. I also see these values intentionally reflected within the diversity of our organization’s leadership and staff, which aims to mirror the uniqueness of our society. I am excited to join the One America Movement in its dedication to building resilient multifaith, multiethnic, and transpartisan relationships and communities nationwide. 

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