VCU students cut ties to non-profit following Kony 2012 fallout

Posted at 9:22 AM, Apr 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-13 11:08:13-04

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project.

 By Ireti Adesanya and Stephen Ackley (Special to

RICHMOND, Va. – As the global fallout from the Kony 2012 viral campaign begins to settle down, the local chapter of Invisible Children at VCU has quietly broken ties with the organization. The students decided that the direction of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell was not one they wanted to continue to follow.

“The Invisible Children organization’s change in focus was not something our club was going to change our focus to. Our club is about having our own voice, not just following others,” said Ashley Zehrt, former president of the student chapter. “Our group thrives on feelings of hope, courage, and unity, not hatred. We all realize it is important that Joseph Kony is tried for his crimes, but the focus of our club is to support the Ugandan children in their education and their communities.”

Russell’s Kony 2012 online video on the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his crimes against children during the country’s civil war became a global Internet sensation last month and has been viewed more than 100 million times. The video spread quickly through social media after its release in early March. But subsequently, Russell was criticized for simplifying the Ugandan conflict and overplaying today’s role of Kony in the African nation. [Read more here]

Christopher Brooks, an anthropology professor at VCU, said that the Kony 2012 video was a different approach to capture Joseph Kony and only time will tell if it proves successful.

“Kony is not going to be that easy to capture, because he has mastered techniques of moving around in woodland setting, so I don’t think it will be as easy as that,” said Brooks.

VCU student Zehrt said that although club membership increased by 100, the video would have done more damage than good in the long run.

“If we had continued supporting the Invisible Children organization, we could have definitely expected to lose members,” said Zehrt. “I received over 40 emails from members, saying that they did not want to support Invisible Children any longer.”

The public breakdown of Russell on a San Diego street corner in the aftermath of the public scrutiny of his video has also shed a negative light on the organization. [Click to read more]

Invisible Children at VCU has now become the Initiate Peace Club, which will focus solely on raising support for the Circle of Peace Primary School in Uganda and the FUNDaFIELD organization that builds soccer fields at schools in Africa.

“From the beginning, our focus has been on supporting the children and people of Uganda, especially through supporting their education. We were inspired by the children,” said Zehrt. 

But not all VCU students mirror the feelings of the club members. Many feel that the message of the Kony 2012 video is too big to ignore.

VCU student Melissa Davis believes that despite Russell’s breakdown, people should focus on his efforts to raise awareness to the plight of children in Uganda.

“The problem is still there. I think he was just advocating for a problem. It shouldn’t matter if he had a breakdown or not, the problem still exists,” Davis said.

VCU student Tenese Benton agrees that while there is a lot of controversy surrounding Invisible Children, the video served its purpose.

“I thought the video was very informative. I definitely knew that there was something going on there. But it definitely brought light to the situation and made me more aware of what was going on there,” Benton said.

Mark Doss, another VCU student, applauds any individual or organization that tries to bring mass awareness to an issue.

“I was very welcomed and surprised that this one person took the initiative to try and help the people,” Doss said. “I never heard of Joseph Kony before this.”

In the meantime, Invisible Children released a second video last week that continued to hit back against its critics.

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.