An interview with Roberto Filacchione, M.A., an alumnus of the graduate programs we offer in partnership with Antioch University.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am, above all, a common mortal of this world. I came to the United States from Venezuela in 1996, and since then I have been fortunate to meet the most generous and supportive people. When I started the master’s program at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE), I found the spirit of support and generosity in my mentors and fellow students, some of whom I am now proud to call colleagues and friends.
I am passionate about speaking up against social injustices wherever they occur and whomever their victims are, and writing about such injustices is important to me. I am looking forward to teaching at the university level on the subject and incorporating human rights, the protection of other animals, and the sacredness with which the natural environment must be treated. Since 1998, I have been a community organizer with the Society of Value Creation, the Soka Gakkai, a lay international Nichiren Buddhist organization. Its philosophy has shaped me into the individual I am today—always in the process of self-improvement.
What drew you to the field of humane education?
What drew me to this field was the understanding that the suffering of humans and other animals, and the harm inflicted on the insentient, natural world are inextricably linked. After completing my bachelor’s in sociology I wanted to be involved in projects and campaigns addressing and ending child poverty and hunger in my home county. I was internally conflicted thinking, “What about the animals?” “What can I do about that issue, which I also care about?”
Can you recall a transformational course or experience within the graduate program that changed your perspective?
The semester on Environmental Ethics I took with Sarah Bexell opened my eyes to an issue I was paying less attention to. Before that course, the pain I experienced when seeing images of factory farming or learning about human suffering in war-torn zones had pulled my attention away from environmental issues – I felt that they should be the least of my concerns. Taking Environmental Ethics was like pressing the “delete” button on that reasoning. It resulted in my heightened appreciation and respect for every single leaf, flower petal, or pebble I see, every raindrop that falls from the skies, and each season of the year. This was my first transformational experience in the program, but the most transformational one was my realization that the impact of farm animal advocacy campaigns is seriously limited if the plight of farm workers is kept outside the equation. Here, instead of a “delete” button I had to press the “reset” button.
What humane education or solutionary project are you working on now?
My ongoing project is to keep writing essays and articles—long and short—mostly concerning the abolition of systems of abuse through direct action based on the philosophy and strategies of nonviolence. I am exploring the possibility of teaching at the university level and bringing the fundamental elements of humane education and the solutionary approach to the field of sociology or philosophy. Let us say that I am in the middle of the casting process for my next “movie,” in which I will wear different outfits: writer, musician, photographer, mentor, advocate, and teacher.
In my most recent “movie” I was hired by the all-female choral group Brazilian Voices, to be their presenter and lecturer for their concert “Amazonas” in Liberty City, Miami, in which about one-hundred and twenty middle and high school students attended. During the planning for the concert, I advised the group to include images, sounds, and videos of the Amazon Rainforest and to bring up the subject of the environmental and humanitarian crises taking place in the largest rainforest in the world. I wrote the script for the presentation of a selected group of songs that addressed subjects such as the burning forests, the drying rivers, the oppression of Indigenous People, and the human-caused destruction of so many free-living animals. As a Florida resident, I felt compelled to share why and how, by caring for the Amazon, we are also protecting the Florida Everglades. The reception and excitement of the students went beyond my expectations and their teachers were deeply touched and grateful that, in addition to showing the magnificence and beauty of the Amazon Rainforest, the performance and presentations addressed the environmental emergency taking place in their home state. I later learned that teachers and students continued the discussion when they went back to their classrooms.
How do you stay energized and motivated in this work?
I have many different ways to recover from the frustration, anger, and hopelessness of seeing improvements in the world taking place at such a slow and even imperceptible pace. My tools are my Buddhist practice, which involves meditational aspects as well as study, and being involved in supporting others in and outside the faith community. Journaling helps me vent negative feelings and organize my thoughts; I could not recommend it enough. Reaching out to understanding and genuine friends is priceless because they will encourage you or provide honesty to help you overcome negativity in your life. And when nothing else works, I simply sit in front of the piano and play my favorite music, and it works like magic. It’s like a medicine from the “lab of joy” that, when you share with others, its power is strengthened.
Share something that has inspired you recently
In the last few years until today, I have been mostly moved and inspired by this generation of youth. In my opinion, their awareness, concern, and activism in connection with the injustices in the world is unprecedented. Not to mention, that thanks to modern communication technology, they are more informed and in touch with other youth around the world across diverse cultures.
They bring to mind Ella’s Song by Bernice Johnson Reagon:
“To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young,
who dare to run against the storm.”
Where can people keep up with you and learn more about your work?
I have a few short essays available to the public on https://medium.com/@robertofilacchione.
Stay tuned for more to come of long-term projects that are still in the development stage.
Feel inspired? You can read more stories of humane educators in action here.