You Can See Beyoncé And Change The World At This NYC Festival

Photographed by Cait Oppermann.
Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and Pearl Jam are getting together in late September. They'll perform in New York City, on Central Park's Great Lawn, for free in front of 60,000 fans. The occasion is Global Citizen Festival, the fourth-annual event targeted at eradicating a different worldwide, systemic issue each year, and scheduled to coincide with the UN General Assembly in New York.

This year's objective is ending extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.25 a day — by 2030.

This Thursday, Global Citizen will release 20,000 tickets in sets of two to 10,000 winners.

The festivalgoers stand to be more than music fanatics or lucky people — they'll be activists. To win tickets to Global Citizen, one must register to become a Global Citizen, which means joining a digital community to embark on a service mission that begins with owning a simple, inspiring credo:

"I am a Global Citizen," it reads. "I believe that 1 billion people living in extreme poverty is unfair and unjust."

Besides Queen Bey, another superwoman is at the helm of the groundbreaking event: 32-year-old Justine Lucas, a Brooklyn resident, nonprofit maven, and dance-party host extraordinaire who is strongly involved in every single step of the festival-planning process.

Lucas is the global director of programming for the Global Poverty Project, an international advocacy organization and official NGO Partner of the UN Department of Public Information. An Illinois native, she's a die-hard Chicago sports-team fan who moved to New York to attend NYU and start a career in international public health that's taken her all over the city as well as the world.

No matter where Lucas goes, how many incredible women she meets, or how many gazillions of dollars she raises to help make the world a safer place, her role model remains her maternal grandmother.

"She was a total badass," Lucas says, explaining that her grandma ran the last Chicago school cafeteria to produce its own food until she was in her late eighties.

To Lucas, "badass" means making a difference — for someone besides yourself.
Photographed by Cait Oppermann.

Where did you grow up?
"In a small town outside of Chicago. Cornfields and everything. We lived outside of the small town — with a big yard, a pond. We played outside a lot. I had the best childhood."

Tell us more about yourself as a little kid.
"I went through phases. When I was really young, I was the pink-and-purple, super-girly type. Then my mom gave me a bowl cut, and I fell into being a sort of a tomboy for a little bit. I looked like an idiot. I was super-curious, and because we lived on all this land, I was really outdoorsy. We’d spend all day exploring and hiking through the cornfields and just would disappear.

"I was always a super-geek. I was a straight-A student, and my dad got me really involved. I became an activist when I was young. I was in a school district that was always overcrowded — we always joked all through elementary and high school that half of my classes were in those trailers that they park in the front of the school. My dad and I used to go door-to-door with petitions, referendums to build new schools.

"I remember being in middle school — walking around and getting involved for the first time. My dad and I did an AIDS ride when I was 17, which was also something that got me involved in issues outside of my small town of Woodstock, Illinois."
Photo: Courtesy of Justine Lucas.
Justine at 2 years old, in Glenview, IL.
A bike ride?
"Yeah. We rode our bikes from Minneapolis to Chicago."

How far is that?
"Five hundred miles. In six days. It was pretty crazy. I was always pretty athletic. I ran, played soccer, swam."

Do you remember your first encounter with poverty, or when you realized there were large, systemic issues in the world?
"The AIDS ride was a big moment. I started to understand issues of inequality. I wrote my college essay on an experience I had on ride. I was in front of my dad, and a truck driver in the middle of Wisconsin veered in front of me and I was forced off the road. There was this connotation of AIDS and people being gay. It was my first shocking understanding of inequality.

"I didn't get the opportunity to travel much until I went to the Middle East [after college]. I bought a one-way ticket to Cairo. It really fired me up. I got interested in politics and dichotomies in the Middle East, and then went and got a master's in global affairs. I kept diving further and further down that path. I knew from my first job that I wanted to do nonprofit work.

"When I moved to Cameroon [to work for a nonprofit in 2009], I got to understand corruption and what that meant. No matter how much you study that, you can’t really understand what it means on a day-to-day basis until you’re in an argument with a police officer. I had this moment when this police officer was holding this older woman in prison and saying that she had to pay some sort of fine for a minor violation. The fine was quite high, and we’re in this fight, and he’s like, 'I make the equivalent of $30 a month. If we don’t engage in corruption, I can’t feed my children, I can't buy this pen…there’s no system here that gives us the supplies to do our jobs.'

"It was really intense to learn those lessons firsthand. I'm so grateful that I did that. It was a catalytic moment for me…. I can’t imagine now not working on this for the rest of my life to try to fix what I experienced there."

That was the year of 'Single Ladies.' I felt like by the time I left, every single DJ in the country knew that I loved that song and would play it when I went to the club

Justine Lucas, GPP global director of programs
Did you like living there?
"I had the most amazing experience in Cameroon. I met the most amazing people. I loved the food. I loved the culture. I loved the dancing. I loved going clubbing there — it was so fun. I remember that was the year of 'Single Ladies.' I felt like by the time I left, every single DJ in the country knew that I loved that song and would play it when I went to the club."

When did you start working for Global Poverty Project [GPP]?
"Four years ago. GPP didn't really have a presence in the U.S. [The organization began in the U.K.] The first U.S. office opened in 2011 — I found the job posting in mid-2011.

"I was interviewed by everyone, which back then was, like, five people. I started as the U.S. campaign manager, then I became the U.S. director, and now I'm the global director of programs. I manage all events and campaigns. Global Citizen Festival is kind of a big one.

"Back in 2011, we kicked off this model of leveraging concerts to get new commitments for the world’s poor — the idea of leveraging music to achieve huge wins is something that’s been in our DNA since the beginning. Through a festival we hosted in Perth, Australia, we got over $100 million in new commitments towards polio."

Let's talk about the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]. One of them was ending extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. Clearly, that didn't happen, since GPP's goal is to end extreme poverty by 2030.
"There has been incredible progress. Over the past few decades, we’ve halved the number of people living in extreme poverty, which I think is an incredible story to tell and something that we try to celebrate as an organization — that we’ve made this incredible progress.

Over the past few decades, we’ve halved the number of people living in extreme poverty.

Justine Lucas
"The Millennium Development Goals provided a structure where we could actually measure, between 2000 and 2015, the progress that we made on all eight of those indicator areas. I think that structure was really helpful for the global cormmunitity, because it was then evident that we weren't making as much progress as we needed to on things like maternal and child health and education for girls. When you have those clear sets of targets and indicators, then there’s something that world leaders can be held to account on. That was really the power of the MDGs.

"The SDGs [sustainable development goals] have 17 goals and 169 targets. It’s a little bit more complex, but I think [the process of creating the SDGs] was better than the MDG process, because it was something that civil society participated in actively. World leaders and corporations and nonprofit organizations and ordinary individuals fed into the process that created the SDGs. Now, there’s this roadmap, which is really extensive and ambitious but something that will hold us to account as we go from now until 2030."

You're 32 — that's young. What’s it like interacting with important public figures?
"It’s incredibly humbling. You definitely pinch yourself walking out of a meeting.
Photographed by Cait Oppermann.

"We can’t take credit for everything that we do. Everything that we do is always in conjunction with partners. We work with the most amazing NGOs and the most amazing multilaterals. I think that we’ve built strong relationships along the way that have helped carry us forward. When you have somebody like Chris Martin [of Coldplay] say that he wants to commit for the next 15 years to supporting the end of extreme poverty and he wants to curate the Global Citizen Festival for the coming years, when you get that kind of commitment, it’s unbelievable…. But I think it still gets all of us every time. We act our age."

Are there women you admire in the public-policy sphere?
"So many: Amina Mohamed — she is leading the entire SDG process — has incredible respect within the U.S. and from world leaders across the board. She's a very powerful woman and a powerful speaker, so she’s been a role model in 2015.

"Also, Leith Greenslade works with MDG Health Envoy and is one of the academics and the brains behind the implementation of the MDGs over the last 15 years. She's one of those women with three kids, just doing everything. She has the best head on her shoulders — she’s really level-headed, the right amount of critical, and so supportive of all of our work."

Does it make you nervous to have a finite goal like wanting to end extreme poverty by 2030?

"I think there’s power in the definitiveness of 2030. I had a professor during my master's degree that said the purpose of nonprofits is to put themselves out of business, and the purpose of a nonprofit professional is to put herself out of a job.

if we don't wholeheartedly put ourselves towards our mission and our goal, then we are hurting our ambition to achieve what we have set out to do. I don’t find it scary. I find it powerful.

Justine Lucas
"I think going into this, if we don't wholeheartedly put ourselves towards our mission and our goal, then we are hurting our ambition to achieve what we have set out to do. I don’t find it scary. I find it powerful."

Do you think it's possible?
"All the data demonstrates that it is possible, but it’s only possible if we increase our ambition — if we get world leaders to commit additional funds, if we involve corporations in this process moving forward. We definitely have to increase the scale of what we’re achieving, but the data demonstrates that it’s absolutely possible."

How does the average person help make this a reality?
"For us, the obvious one is to become a Global Citizen! The platform itself is going to continue to increase its functionality. We’ll start to give people the opportunity to volunteer in their communities and engage in events offline.

"There are everyday things we can all do: being conscious of how you purchase products, what kinds of companies you’re supporting; voting, buying food locally, just being conscious of supply chains, not supporting companies that have unfair labor practices, biking, walking — it’s so easy being in New York. Being conscious of how many taxis we take!"

Global Citizen has an amazing digital and social-media presence. How important do you think social media is and will continue to be in enacting worldwide change?
"I think it’s absolutely critical. If you flip it on its head, from the perspective of somebody that's engaging in protests or uprisings, Twitter and social-media platforms are great ways to coordinate and communicate with one another. In places that are hard to reach, it’s a voice that can be shared with the world. I can’t see a future where social media isn’t critical. What else are you engaging with every single day? It’s a way to stay connected and have a voice. It’s the future."

What’s your favorite memory from a Global Citizen Festival in the past?
"The one that always hits me right away is from the 2012 show. The first performer was K’naan. I didn’t really know K’naan that well, except for the 'Wavin' Flag' song from the World Cup, but he was absolutely amazing. When he started playing 'Wavin' Flag,' I was like, "This is unreal; there are 60,000 people here, and he’s playing this amazing song, and he comes from an incredible background." As a musician, he was such a fit. He was so passionate about the issues.
"It was the first Global Citizen Festival. I remember getting so teary — but that happens every year. You're running around like a crazy person, and then you stop and you’re like, 'What?! I love this song. I can’t believe this is happening!' It all happens fast, and then there are little moments when you pause and you're like, I can’t believe this is happening.

"Afterwards, we definitely cry and then party till 7 a.m."

Who are you most excited to see at this year's festival?
"I feel like it's Beyoncé. I don’t want to say this out loud, because I feel bad, but I never really got into Pearl Jam. I know a lot of Pearl Jam songs by default, because they were so popular when I was growing up, but I don’t know if I’m a super-fan. And Coldplay — that will be amazing. Ed Sheeran, I’m just starting to listen to, too.

"So Beyoncé, for sure. We’ve just partnered with Chime for Change, the [campaign] that Beyoncé and Salma Hayek started. Because we’ve partnered with them, and we’re going to be working with them on women’s and girls’ issues from here on forward, I think [Beyoncé] will say amazing things. I can say that our team did meet with her, and she’s really passionate about the issues affecting women and girls."

If you had to isolate one thing that you want to do personally to contribute to ending global poverty or ending injustice for women or some other huge global issue, what would it be?
"Three things come to mind.

"One: because I've had the opportunity to travel, I think something that people don’t realize is that people everywhere are just like us. No matter where I've been when I have traveled — a tiny corner of the world or a desert — you meet somebody, and they’re having boy issues like you are.

No matter where I've been when I have traveled — a tiny corner of the world or a desert — you meet somebody and they’re having boy issues like you are.

Justine Lucas
"That connectivity — I just wish that people understood that, because I think that empathy and action come with that. That's always a story I like to tell. If I were ever to write a book, I'd write about individual people.

"Two: Girls’ education is definitely a passion. There are so many barriers to girls getting into school, and if I think back on my childhood, I think of my teachers as sort of monumental mentors and influencers in my life. For people — girls — not to have that, or the opportunity to dream that they can become something bigger, that makes me sad.

"Three: I've always been a campaigner. In college, I was a crazy activist running around the streets of New York. I've always believed that people have a voice. If I can help give people the opportunity to use their voices, whether it’s through Global Citizen or anything else I do in my life, I think that’s important to me."

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