Vijay B. Dixit, Chairman
Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation
I am standing at the bottom of a steep hill, staring at the distant peak piercing through the clouds, hoping to reach there, one day. That truly mimics my state of mind when I chose to embrace suffering brought on by a distracted driver killing my daughter, Shreya, in 2007.
I named that steep hill, hope. I notice that I am not the only one climbing the hill. I see a number of hills ahead of me. But when I look back, quite a few are behind me as well.
Traffic fatalities are on the rise this year. As of March 9, Minnesota has registered 54 traffic deaths compared to 42 at the same time in 2020. Just a few days ago, a 54-year-old man was arrested for a hit-and-run crash that killed a pedestrian in north Minneapolis. It is ironic that, not too long ago, the mother of the deceased was also killed as a pedestrian in a traffic crash. So ironic.
My family found peace and comfort in various initiatives by the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation (www.shreyadixit.org) to help combat distracted driving. One of the prominent undertakings of the foundation has been the Distraction-free Life clubs at high schools. I sat with Iesh Gujral, the president of the Eden Prairie High School club, and asked him about his current non-academic school activities, his motivations to join the club and, his plan for the next two years. I also asked him about how the Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) could attract teens. I wrote about his experience in the last column.
In this column, Iesh answers questions about his plans for the next two years. I sought his views on attracting young readers to EPLN and transforming them into future EPLN content creators. Following is our conversation:
Vijay: Tell me about your new initiative at the foundation.
Iesh Gujral: Yes, I created a new awareness campaign for the Shreya Foundation. It is called the Distraction-free Life podcast. We already have released four podcasts featuring Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol; Mark Ritchie, president of Global Minnesota and former Minnesota secretary of state; Susan Reynolds, president of Lookup.Live; and Nina Hersher, CEO of Digital Wellness Collective. An upcoming podcast will feature Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council.
Vijay: How may EPLN readers access the podcast?
Iesh: The podcast is available on several streaming platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You may also access the podcast on the foundation’s website at https://shreyadixit.org/distraction-free-life-podcast-2/
Vijay: So now, coming back to your role as the president of the Distraction-free Life Club. What is your Distraction-free Life Club’s plan for the next two years?
Iesh: Yes, several things. We have already started expanding the clubs, getting to more schools, and reaching out to more students. Because the Eden Prairie club has led to so many wonderful things, we have done and led the internship.
On initiatives for the Shreya Foundation, one of the important things I think is broadening the perspective, creating more clubs, getting more students involved, and allowing those clubs to use their creativity. We do not want to limit them. We know from experience that clubs are a root source of productivity growth.
We are also getting inquiries from other states as to whether the foundation could help them. A mid-Atlantic club contacted us. They want to implement certain things. We can provide them with guidelines to help them initiate things.
Vijay: The foundation developed a guidebook for creating clubs and the end-to-end process for implementing internship programs. We surely can share that.
What message do you have for the EPLN leaders? All of them belong to the generation that is closer to your parents and grandparents. Your generation represents the future, and EPLN wants to increase its reach into the youth community. EPLN has taken the first step by creating the online delivery channel that your age group prefers. How could we penetrate this demographic? Do you have any suggestion for me as one of the writers and for the EPLN leadership team?
Iesh: Yes, I will start with: Trust the Youth. We must work together; high schoolers and college students are all one giant community. Influencing the youth is most important. You need to tell them convincingly that you trust them. That is important.
So, when younger people know that they are trusted by the older generations for their goals, beliefs, and things they want to do, you will get so many more perspectives and a variety of ideas.
Approach the youth in a manner that conveys to them that they matter, include them in important discussions and decisions. In general, this is what would help get the youth more involved.
You know, the foundation is founded on youth involvement and is tapping into uncharted territories. That is powerful. I cannot think of a single other organization that is doing that in the state.
A cause like distracted driving and putting it in the hands of the youth to help motivate change and inspire others is unique. Several organizations can follow suit and it is possible to have their youth wield that type of the influence.
Vijay: How may we get more among your demographics to read our news coverage and contribute to EPLN?
Iesh: Yes, I am for reading the news coverage; I know the EPLN already covers lots of high schools related materials. But I think what matters more is not to only cover the girls’ basketball game score. EPLN should go farther than that; cover more of the subtle things. Maybe an initiative that is happening at the school or how there is a new course at the school about cultural diversity or entrepreneurship.
You know, with a game, a score, yes you are already covering the youth. But you are doing it in a more materialistic manner than a meaningful manner. So changing things this way would get more youth readers because it is of more value to them, and their parents, too.
And I think other than that, getting students to get involved in the production side of the EPLN is important too. There is an Eagle News Network at Eden Prairie High School. We also have a magazine at the high school. Already some students are trying to get involved in journalism and advocacy in several initiatives.
Putting things, again, in the hands of the youth and letting the students take a little bit more of the drive will get more youth involved on the production side.
Vijay: A very insightful suggestion. That is the road EPLN must take to bring the youth into the EPLN fold. I am sure you will see movement in that direction at EPLN.
Let me go back to how I started this column, talking about the Buddha’s first sermon under the Bodhi tree and the end of suffering. My suffering from losing a child did not end. Instead, it took another form called the Shreya Foundation, where I engage youth and help them lead a peaceful Distraction-free Life. If you have a teen at home or in the neighborhood, please encourage them to check out the Distraction-free Life club at the high school. To learn more about the foundation and its upcoming paid 2021 summer internship program, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.