Jan 2021

Deborah Olatunji Unification Honoree

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Deborah Olatunji is disrupting the education system through storytelling


A loud reminder

18-year-old Deborah Olatunji joined the advocacy space in 2018 after attending the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute. While there, she met Gen Z’ers with different beliefs and political backgrounds. Inspired by her experience, she decided to take action by writing a book after being frustrated with the robotic nature of her sophomore Biology class and failing a pop quiz. “There was no surprise that I felt helpless in my education experience,” she said. “In the book, I interview college instructors, many high school and college students, teachers, parents, and a senator to discuss how to reimagine the education system to benefit students and help us grow.”

“As an identical twin with four siblings, I've always been around the loud reminder that there is more than just one perspective on the things that I care about.”

Deborah found her voice by surrounding herself with people who share their voices. “I've tried my very best to make sure that my close community is filled with people who are doers and shakers as we grow together to find the way our voices shape the world,” she said. “As an identical twin with four siblings, I've always been around the loud reminder that there is more than just one perspective on the things that I care about.”


The power we hold

Deborah, an education activist and UPenn student, is intensely passionate about being an igniter and catalytic force in the education system. She is the founder of the Student Leadership Initiative Program. She and her peers help other high school students navigate their interests and passions through this mentorship-fueled social venture. She also hosts the “Voices of Disruption Podcast” and wrote a book called Unleashing Your Innovative Genius. “The collective power of people who are driven to build together inspires me to center my life around what I currently do,” she said. “I care about disrupting the education system and the thought patterns from past generations because there is a great opportunity for students to learn about themselves. When my generation is given a chance to discover more beyond what the standard is for being academically literate, we start building and mobilizing communities of citizens who are interested in social impact, personal growth, and societal development.”

"When my generation is given a chance to discover more beyond what the standard is for being academically literate, we start building and mobilizing communities of citizens who are interested in social impact, personal growth, and societal development.”

As an exceptional Gen Z’er using her voice for good, she was honored for her commitment to Unification through The ConversationaLIST. “I envision a world where my generation feels called to fully come to terms with their voices, step into the power that we hold, and live lives that make us excited to get up in the morning, she said. 

Deborah said that someone who hasn’t found their voice yet should think about what excites them. “It doesn't have to be anything overly glamorous by anyone else's standards but your own,” she said. “When someone says something that you feel seen by or connected to, let them know. When you find something that you want to talk about, continue to research and learn the other perspectives. Lean into what you like to do.”

Looking toward the future, Deborah plans to continue building the “Voices of Disruption” community and brand. “I see myself continuing to trust and put my faith in God's plan, being a global talk show host, and writing more books,” she said.


Spurring others to action

Deborah said she feels empowered by The Conversationalist's mission to showcase a wide range of voices while amplifying social justice issues that matter and require real action. “I am excited to learn about the ideas and stories that the members of this community care about,” she said. “It's a place to connect with other Gen Zers and collaborate.”

For Deborah, a unified world is a world where Black youth feel comfortable in their own skin, ageism isn't a justification for lack of respect, and everyone knows the power of their voice and uses it for good. “We can build a unified world by listening to each other, being honest, authentic, and vulnerable, and giving grace to the process of developing and discovering new ideas that shape our beliefs,” she said.

To break open her echo chamber, Deborah follows people who are investing in fields she doesn't know much about. She also does her own research, confirms the validity of sources, and creates well-informed stances.

“In difficult conversations, remember that you are speaking with them to share your perspective, not change their mind.”

Deborah tries to understand that everyone is coming with experiences and upbringing when it comes to difficult conversations. Sometimes, people only believe what they believe because that is what they have been taught and have never explored different views. “In difficult conversations, remember that you are speaking with them to share your perspective, not change their mind,” she said. “You are speaking to them to spur them to action.”


The Conversationalist couldn’t be more grateful for Deborah Olatunji as she advocates for others. Keep up with her on Instagram and follow the Voices of Disruption Podcast to learn more about her work.


Come hang out with Deborah and all of our LIST honorees! Join us in Geneva and follow The Conversationalist on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok to stay up to date with all of our future events.