By: Tori Lubin ’18
Daniel Trust takes the stage in the living room of a Westport family’s home. He smiles brightly with a rare kind of ease and vibrance that immediately grabs the crowd’s attention. The room is dead silent.
Daniel Trust, 26, is a Rwandan genocide survivor and nationally recognized motivational speaker. He preaches the ideas of forgiveness and resilience, leaving the crowd with the message that with persistence, they can recover from anything.
“This message is so important because people need to know that holding onto hardships and the past only holds them back, and personally, I refuse to let anything or anyone hold me back, let alone myself,” Trust said. “Everyone is capable of greatness, but no one who is stuck in the past will ever be able to embrace it and move forward. People have to learn how to let go.”
Trust’s experience as genocide survivor and former student from Bridgeport, Connecticut led him to create the Daniel Trust Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to supporting the educational and career needs of students who come from low-income districts. It includes a scholarship program, a program to honor teachers and a mentoring program.
Trust has spoken at locations such as Duke University, University of Florida and Northwestern University. He also lectured at Staples High School last year, and again recently at Hallie ’18 and Phoebe ’17 Spear’s home in Westport.
“I got involved with Daniel Trust after I heard him speak at school,” Spear ’18 said. “I have always been interested in human rights since eighth grade. After hearing Daniel speak and learning he was a Rwandan genocide survivor I wanted to get involved in his organization.”
Annie Gao ’16, who listened to Trust speak at the Spear home, emphasized the importance of Trust’s message.
“I thought that Daniel’s speech was very inspirational and empowering. It was amazing to hear him open up about such a personal and difficult time in his life,” Gao said. “Throughout his speech, Daniel talked about his hardships during his genocide experience and it made me realize how lucky I am to have what I have.”
Spear ’18 agreed that Daniel sends an empowering message. “I think Daniel’s message is important because it shows the importance of optimism and to keep on going,” she said. “I think that every person no matter whether they come from a less privileged community or from one that has money they should have an equal opportunity for college and education.”
The grant given by the Daniel Trust Foundation targets twelfth grade students looking to attend either a two or four year college program. Students from low-income families in Connecticut, New York or New Jersey are eligible to apply. If accepted, the student will receive $500 a year to help pay for college expenses such as textbooks. This saves these students $2,000 in college expenses by the end of their college career.
In addition, every student who receives a grant from the foundation must nominate a teacher who enhanced their learning experience and supported them throughout their high-school academic career. Trust explained how his teacher Kathy Silver motivated him as a student, and inspired him to include this aspect of the scholarship.
“The people in my life made me feel as though I wasn’t smart and that I’d never amount to anything. That was until I met Kathy Silver when I entered high school,” Trust said. “She, among other teachers, were the first to support me and help me strive for the best. For those reasons, I created the Kathy Silver Award for students to award their teachers the recognition they deserve as a thank you.” These teachers can be awarded up to $4,500 in cash prizes to help these teachers continue with their fantastic work as educators.
Lastly, the foundation goes above and beyond granting students money. It also nurtures student’s emotional needs through a mentoring program. Daniel Trust and other members of his organization support high school juniors and seniors through every aspect of the college process, including taking them on college tours, helping them to pinpoint job opportunities, manage personal finances and so much more.
“My relationship with each of my students is very personalized in the sense that I really get to know each one,” Trust said. “I do whatever I can to help my students and only ask in return that they do the same once they are in my position.”
The Daniel Trust Foundation continues to change students’ lives, and his message resonates with all those he speaks to. He said, “As hard as it may be, I never dwell on the tragedies of my past because if I did, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”