All Heroes Need A League Benjamin Thomas Wolf, An Everyday Hero by Ina Ruxandra Bochian
Running towards any goal is a difficult task filled with uncertainty, but the decision to run and move forward regardless of challenges is one of the most courageous pursuits any man or woman can set on. Benjamin Thomas Wolf, a Progressive Democrat with small town roots and lofty world goals, set out on his run for U.S. Congress, representing the 5th District of Chicago. Benjamin is not just a dreamer, but a man who has achieved the goals he set for himself throughout his life. My support for Benjamin’s campaign is personal because he represents persistence and endurance. These two attributes help me gain back focus when I feel I am lost. Meeting someone like Benjamin only reinforced in me the idea that great achievements can be accomplished with likeminded people longing for positive changes in our society.
In a world damaged by tragedies, we seek heroes, leaders, strong individuals to lead us out of the darkness. However, the best heroes are human beings with a heart for people. When searching for a hero, we tend to relate more to a Clark Kent than we do to a Superman because Clark Kent speaks to the humanity in all of us. Aesthetically judging Benjamin, he can audition for the role of Clark Kent, but talking to him, it seems he also embodies the characteristics of an everyday hero. He is attentive, articulate, and also very kind. Underneath all that, he has a will of steel and advocates for social issues like Superman.
The first time I heard Benjamin speak was on a sunny Saturday in May. Sick and dizzy that morning, I couldn’t quite appreciate the sun’s warmth. My health was not great and a lot of things in my life felt out of place. With my eyes pierced on the ceiling I asked God for some sort of redirection and also for joy. Scrolling through Facebook, I did not quite find what I was looking for, but a clicked on a video only to hear Benjamin address the new President of France in his native tongue. This video made me smile because it brought back fond memories of my family trip to Paris. For me, Paris represented possibility for change and also courage. Recalling how depressed I was when I first got to Paris, I grew happier once I interacted with the vibrant people who helped me come alive again.
The most significant conversation I had in France was only one word, “Courage.” One day, after a very silly argument with my father and sister over the breakfast place choice, a French restaurant owner saw me crying and offered me a clementine. The Frenchman looked me straight in the eye and said, “Courage.” Little did the man know I was not crying because of the argument about the restaurant, but that I felt my whole life was crashing down. I could not even enjoy the present because I thought about how unaccomplished I felt in my life. My father had sacrificed a lot for that trip and he did not want to see me sad, but I felt a deep sense of grief inside because a lot of my dreams had been cut short. In my mind, I was in a very dark place. I did not want to live, but I did not want to die either. In this city of lights, I felt the light inside myself was dimmed. I had lost all hope, but my paradigm shifted when this man smiled and offered me the clementine. With all the strength I had inside I pulled myself out of personal darkness and made the very best I could from family trip. At the time I did not know that my dad would be diagnosed with cancer, but knowing now how fragile can be I am now determined to make the very best of every circumstance.
Before seeing Benjamin’s video, I had not paid much attention to him and even wondered why he added my Hilarity for Charity Facebook page as a friend. At first I assumed he is a candidate passionate about senior citizens because I set up my Facebook page to raise money for an Alzheimer’s organization called Hilarity for Charity, a movement led by Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller to inspire change and raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease among the millennial generation. I had been involved with the charity for a few years because I had a family member with Alzheimer’s who died and personally know a lot of other seniors affected by this disease. My initial idea was to create a movement in Chicago by setting up small fitness fundraisers around the city to raise awareness and money for the organization. Eventually, I hoped to organize a Variety Show in Chicago much similar to the Variety Shows hosted in Los Angeles and New York.
I knew that Seth spoke before Congress about the importance of raising money and awareness for Alzheimer’s and wondered if Benjamin had added my page because he had seen that speech and felt connected to the cause. From the video, I could already tell that Benjamin would be very effective in speaking about this cause or any other significant issue that affects our society. Benjamin was considerate enough to deliver a message to the French president in French, which showed me that he is a thoughtful man of action.
I really did not have time to get involved in a political campaign because I was so busy with my two jobs and putting together a charity event, but that French video made me reconsider. Though I did not particularly want to implicate myself to volunteer, I thought maybe Benjamin and I can share our networks and help each other in some ways. My willingness to find out more about him was based solely on this French video and the good feelings it brought about my family and courage. After seeing the video, I visited Benjamin’s website and started to read a little more about him.
The first thing that stood out to me was that Benjamin is a retired FBI National Security Investigator and a US Diplomat and Foreign Services Officer. After serving multiple deployments in Iraq and Africa, he came back to live in Chicago where he is a Professor of Social Justice, Human Rights and Political Science. Benjamin is also a Wicker Park home owner and small business owner who stays involved in community work as the President of a Chicago Non-Profit Organization.
Besides Benjamin’s impressive resume, he seemed quite unique because he also practices yoga, rescues dogs and plays guitar. Judging from his social media pages and website, there was enough there for me to want to have a conversation with him. From what appears on his website Benjamin’s platform focuses on: free universal healthcare for everyone, free college tuition and loan repayment, legalization of cannabis, protecting and defending unions, planet first philosophy on environment, 15 dollars per hour minimum wage, and no corporate donations. After doing a little bit of my research, I shot him a message at 5:55 am that morning as I was getting ready to go running. My message was simple, “Hi Ben (but don’t call him that, he prefers Benjamin). I like your platform. Follow me back if you want. Have a great day! Good luck with the election.” After a few seconds, I wrote, “Do you need help by the way?” I really did not think I had the time to help myself, but thought maybe I could get some students to volunteer.
In response Benjamin informed me he would very much like my support and invited me to meet him and his staff that following Tuesday. We met May 18th at an amazing restaurant in Logan Square called Park and Field. That day I was supposed to attend my sister’s graduation in the suburbs, but an urgent meeting took me to the Daily Center downtown Chicago, which kept me in the city. A part of me was very sad for not attending my sister’s graduation, but another part of me felt like I wanted to be part of something bigger and redirect my purpose. My day job at that time was unfulfilling, but what I really wanted to do was work in film and media to create and produce stories about human rights, overcoming violence, violence against women and sexual violence.
I was not sure if helping the Wolf Campaign would help me find meaning, but I remembered feeling really empty inside that night. My best acting skills helped me keep a smile on my face and no one could tell how I felt inside. I made small talk with the people there, but inside I was crying and asking myself if Benjamin was another opportunist in a Patriarchy driven society. Judging from what I read, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt because I was reminded of the Frenchman who said “Courage.” An instinct told me to trust Benjamin and hope for the best. While I did not get the help of those whose doors I knocked on in the past, I wondered if helping Benjamin would help position me in places where the right people would want to help. At that time, I was not ready to discuss any of this with him and I still have not had a conversation with him about this because it is too heavy for me. I am not a victim. I am a survivor and prefer that term. Victims blame, victims perpetuate a cycle of pain, but survivors move forward, healing themselves and helping others heal in the process. I don’t like to talk about my story because sometimes I feel it overshadows my identity, but I want to open up dialogue now so that a new identity, a stronger identity can be created.
“I could tell that you’re very smart,” Benjamin said to me after talking to me a few minutes. “We could really use you.” Thanking him, I really appreciated his words because I could tell he was being genuine and attentive. He asked me a lot of questions about myself and paid attention to the things I said about school, my work in film, and my family. Smiling warmly, Benjamin picked up something about me many people cannot tell right away, “You are probably more effective individually or in small groups. You’re really not a party or festival kind of girl, are you?” I laughed, “How can you tell?” “You just strike me as a deep thinker. People like you are not too comfortable in big crowds. You don’t have to be like everybody else. There is a place for you here. I’ll find a place for you here.” Respectful and kind, I found Benjamin’s words encouraging because he was already seeing things in me that others have not seen in me since my college days. I liked that he called me smart, rather than pretty. He remained me of Professor Ashton and people who know me for who I really am, people who admire me and appreciate me for the right reasons. In my entertainment, to be seen as pretty creates more work opportunities than to be seen as smart, but I wanted intellect and aesthetics to be appreciated appropriately so that I can complete the work I set out to do.
Talking to Benjamin also reminded me of one of my mentors in college, Claire Manaois. The time I spent with Claire in the Governor’s Office interning for the Governor’s Office of Correspondence were some of my happiest years in life. Back then, I was a student at UIC, majoring in Psychology and English with a minor in Criminal Justice. Uncertain if I would pursue Law School, a career in Criminal Justice, or a Ph.D. in English to become a Professor, I interned and volunteered as much as a could. The creative side in me wanted to pursue a career in liberal arts, but the social activist in me wanted to work in government. Life circumstances derailed my graduate school goals and I eventually ended up in the field I work in now: film and television. Because I could not afford to get the training required and did not quite understand the process, I’ve been running like a hamster on wheels for the past five years trying to produce a film. Unlike college, I did not have mentors to guide me and even though I sought out mentors none provided me with the tools and opportunities necessary for me to move forward. That night Benjamin gave me a little bit of hope because he made me feel valuable regardless of my set backs may have been.
“We need you,” are words that call for action, words that spark a desire to make a difference regardless of circumstances. Hearing those words, along with, “I will find a place for you,” gave me further confirmation that I was in the right place at the right time. The panic I felt about being lost in the world started to subside because I realized that all my choices led to that moment. That epic moment was the occasion to start making better new choices and move forward with a sense of courage. Talking to Benjamin’s assistant, Blaire Embrey, also gave me a sense of opportunity. A fellow creative, Blaire, has a background in film and more specifically documentary film making. She met Benjamin while she was pursuing her goal of making a film. Eventually Blaire became one of the main organizers for the daily activities of the Wolf Campaign. Seeing her dedication to making a difference and how well she works with Benjamin reminded me of my work with Claire. Blaire’s enthusiasm is something I still have inside, behind all the debris that got piled on it between the time I was 23 and now.
We all have dreams inside of us that are covered in mud because somewhere along the line life knocked us to the point where we felt like prisoners of war. Some die with their dreams, but others continue to look for the light, for help, for hope. Benjamin is an example of a man who overcame a lot of obstacles to purse the dreams he had inside, regardless of his circumstances. He figuratively crawled his way towards the horizon to purse a call of service and duty to society. Joking with him a few times I told him that if government does not work out, he can become an actor and play the new Superman. Many people tell him he looks like Superman, but as humbly as Clark Kent, he replies, “It’s just how I was born to look.” The creative in me wants to create a whole comic book series, a book, and a movie about Benjamin’s campaign, but he is a lot more down to earth than I am, encouraging me to focus on one thing at a time. While giving me free reign to be creative, Benjamin himself is a very calculated and process oriented man who cares more about making a difference than he does about superficial things.
Whenever I stop by the office and notice people coming in to say hi, I observe how attentive he is to their needs. Not only does he ask for help, but he also asks them, “How can I help you?” His desire to serve goes back to the age of twelve, while working for the local parks and recreation department. The son of two public school teachers from Kent Ohio, Benjamin was taught early on the importance of education, public service and volunteer work. Growing up, he consistently volunteered for various city and state organizations. Therefore the idea of helping was grounded deep within him.
His university years brought him to Capitol Hill, where he completed a fellowship in Washington D.C.. Subsequently, Benjamin was recruited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Once he graduated from the F.B.I. Academy he worked for years within the National Security Division on the highest priority terrorism, intelligence, and international matters. Later, Benjamin transferred to the U.S. Department of State as an executive advisor and earned a commission in the Foreign Service while advocating American diplomatic efforts abroad. Among the people he served are four Secretaries of State and a number of U.S. ambassadors. After his Foreign Service Tenure, granted to him by Secretary Hilary Clinton, Benjamin traveled with presidential envoys as a security and human rights liaison. During this time, Benjamin volunteered to work in conflict and war zones and severed multiple times in Iraq.
While living in North and West Africa, Benjamin collaborated with international agencies the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Red Cross. As a diplomat, the Peace Core was his favorite organization to work with. Working tirelessly to have a more global perspective, Benjamin protected U.S. efforts internationally and nationally. His foreign experiences gave him a new sense of duty he wanted to bring home to create empowerment programs, job opportunities, skill-building and education initiatives.
Benjamin’s sense of global responsibility extends to his family also because he wanted to teach his twins as much as the world as he could by raising them in Africa during his diplomatic postings to Algeria and Senegal. His passion extends to educating today’s youth and intends to continue his work as a professor in Chicago after completing his Ph.D. in International Psychology. Benjamin’s dissertation focuses on social movements and how basic human rights must be applied equally to every human regardless of race, gender, national identity or economic status.
While Benjamin may not have real superpowers like Superman, I can certainly speak about the Clark Kent qualities that make him an everyday hero. In the short period I’ve known him, he has helped me by introducing me to people who care about the same causes I do. Additionally, he always seems to bring out the best in me and expect me to excel beyond what I think I am even capable of. For this, I truly appreciate and admire him. He is a man of his word and a man who takes action, rather than make promises. However, as strong willed and capable as Benjamin is, he needs your support. He is running the biggest race of his life so far and needs a team of supporters alongside to cheer him on. In return, he will lead by example and also be a worthwhile representative for the 5th District in Congress. For more information, please visit wolfforcongress.org.
We all want a hero, but the best way to find a hero is to become one. By joining the Wolf 2018 Campaign, you have the opportunity to develop skills, build character, network, and do something significant for your community and county. Rather than sitting back and asking why there is so much chaos in the world and on the news, get involved and learn how to be an everyday hero from a man who has dedicated his entire life to public service. As for me, I will provide as much support and encouragement as I can because Benjamin has reminded me about the times in my life I’ve been most strong. We may be polar opposites, but the common ground we meet on is out dedication to creating a new and more positive narrative for the future. Join us, join the League of Everyday Heroes!