FORT COLLINS, CO
Summers filled with bike rides off-trail into the Colorado wilderness. Kayaking the highest class of rapids in a kayak. A 24-hour climb up Mount Fuji in Japan. Anna Poindexter has seen a side of life filled with adventure unknown to most people.
She picks me up on a sunny Friday morning for an interview over coffee and cinnamon raisin french toast at Waffle House. When she sits down at the table, she quickly engages in conversation with the server and her bright, brown eyes light up as she talks.
Poindexter explains her childhood in Japan, where she spent three years on a military base for her dad’s job. “Living in Japan was the best experience of my life,” Poindexter says. “Being in a different culture opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
She begins to talk faster and uses hand movements to express her excitement. “We lived in a Japanese house and were just immersed in the culture,” Poindexter says. “Japan helped me see that there is so much more than the lifestyle Americans live and to see the faults in American society. Japan is so conscious of the world around them and it feels like Americans are floating around and not even taking notice of other cultures. When I see people of another culture I recognize that and I think it is beautiful. Society can be very judgmental toward people of other social or economic statuses.”
Now a sophomore at Colorado State University, Poindexter is involved with the Business Leadership Diversity Association on campus with which she and a team of 23 people hold diversity workshops in the Fort Collins community and for high schools in the area. “I got involved with it the spring semester of my freshman year,” Poindexter says. “I love being involved with BDLA because we do so much social justice work. What society is really lacking in is an awareness of racism as a problem today. Awareness is so important because as a society we try to say we are not judgmental and there is no racism, but there is so much judgement in our culture. I see it in little comments people make and in the business world where people get paid less because of gender, race and ethnicity.”
Poindexter got involved with the program because her experiences in Japan taught her about being in the minority: “I was the only white girl in my class and I was judged so much,” Poindexter says. “That was the first time in my life that the tables were turned and I was the minority. It never clicked with me that I could be judged based on my skin color. People thought I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t smart or good enough to hang out with them. From that experience, I have struggled with confidence throughout my life because I was judged all the time in Japan. It put a lot of pressure on me and affected my choices in high school because I thought I needed to do what all the other girls were doing to have friends. Not having those relationships that made me feel loved made me unable to love myself.”
Coming back to America, Poindexter sees how Americans outcast other minorities without even noticing it, and it fuels her passion for social justice. “When I moved back to America, I saw how we make judgements based on skin color,” Poindexter says. “Seeing that made the problem so much more real; racism wasn’t just something that happened in my past on the base, but it is something that happens to minorities here every day. Being put in a minority situation is what opened my eyes to social justice.”
Poindexter now volunteers at a fair trade shop called Yobel, where the money from purchases creates fair living wages and helps decrease poverty in other countries, such as Uganda.
This May, Poindexter will travel to Uganda on a mission trip with Yobel. She will partner with a business education program in a rural village located outside of Masindi, teaching Ugandans how to effectively run and sustain their small crop and craft businesses. “Going to where our actual purchases come from will help me to understand what the Ugandan people want rather than just assuming what their needs are,” Poindexter says. “I can take what I learn back here and spread awareness from that, educating my volunteer programs.”
Just as Poindexter effortlessly engaged in conversation with our server, she has a way of being present with every person she meets: “Anna came up to me in church one day and we had a whole conversation before I had even met her,” said Sarah Zuehlsdorff, a member of Poindexter’s church. “She just fills up a room with light. It’s impossible not to laugh when you’re with her.”
As she talks about her dreams of changing the world, Poindexter stacks creamer containers and fills with joy.
Her life, filled with adventurous experiences in Japan, Colorado, and soon Uganda, give her the spirit she has and the push to change society. In a country where most people don’t know what it means to be the only white person, Poindexter’s experience as the only white girl drives her passion for social justice. “I am inspired to help bring social justice back into the world,” Poindexter says. “Radical justice and radical love is what I want to spread.”
Since writing this profile, Anna met her now-husband, a Ugandan named Geoffrey, on the farm she volunteered at and traveled back to this village three more times, now permanently living in the village with Geoffrey’s family.
I traveled with them March 2015 to photograph Anna and Geoffrey’s engagement pictures.