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Torah Bontrager was born and raised traditional Amish and literally escaped in the middle of the night at age 15 without telling anyone goodbye. She left with only what she could carry: the clothes on her back and $170 in her pocket. Her departure was permanent. She didn’t know if she’d ever see her siblings, relatives, or community members again.
To her knowledge, she’s the first—and so far, only—Amish escapee to graduate from an Ivy League school. She graduated from Columbia University in New York City, with a BA in Philosophy.
In 2018 Torah founded the Amish Heritage Foundation, which, among other educational initiatives, is attempting to overturn the 1972 US Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder and make education a federal right for all children.
Torah is also the author of An Amish Girl in Manhattan (a memoir), and her story has been featured on MTV, Tim Ferriss’ blog, Forbes.com, and HuffPost, among other outlets.
Brian Young is the editor for AHF’s Real Amish podcast. He also appears on Real Amish Season 1 where he talks about Navajo sovereignty and educational issues, including how Natives are exploited in film/TV and how Natives suffer the highest rates of suicide and domestic and sexual violence––more than any other group on this continent. Check out “Navajo Sovereignty, Education, and Sexual Assault Against Indigenous Women” Season 1, Episode 10.
Brian is Navajo, semi-fluent in Navajo, and an enrolled member of his nation. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale University in Film Studies and produced the first-ever fitness channel spoken entirely in a Native language (Yeego Nitl’aa’). He’s a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA Writing Program, where his thesis was The Whimpering Water Monster (a Middle Grade, #OwnVoice, Native American, Urban Fantasy novel).
Brian has written an article, “Why I Won’t Wear War Paint and Feathers in a Movie Again,” published on Time Magazine’s website and co-directed a short documentary, A Conversation with Native Americans on Race, for the New York Times.
James Schwartz, author of The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America, is a writer-poet who left the Amish Church in his teens after realizing he’s gay. The community he grew up in was near a town that had a gay club and during rumspringa, he learned about his sexuality through people in that club. Once he transitioned to the outside, he found support through the gay community.
James’ experience is quite unique, but because of his advocacy work on social media, more Amish inside the Church (who have online access) are more likely to discover that they’re not alone and that there’s a support group for them on the outside.
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Empowering Amish women and children through education