“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar Chavez
My lifelong twin passions might paint a funny picture at first. To write I must sit alone in solitary contemplation. To serve my community, I must be out in the world.
And yet, these two impulses are not contradictory. They are, in fact, gorgeous complements.
Telling stories and advocating for justice are both about honoring humanity and finding our common connection. Both value truth and beauty and love.
No bullet point list could ever capture anyone’s journey, but here are a few brief highlights of what community means to me, of transformative episodes that I’ve carried with me to this day.
– Starting a Habitat for Humanity club in high school. Experiencing the power of collaboration, feeling the responsibility to keep one’s promises, seeing the dignity of building something with one’s own hands.
– A study abroad semester in Guadalajara, Mexico. The fiery questioning of youth as my college group debated our role in a foreign country. I lead an arts and crafts workshop for children, participated in a community reading exchange with neighbors in a poor barrio of the city as we discussed Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
– A summer internship with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) provided intensive trainings on social justice before we headed “into the fields” to put our new knowledge into practice. My official placement was in an ESL classroom in rural Johnston County and as a co-director of a drop-out prevention program. Unofficially I had even more opportunities to learn. Direct service, direct action, legal channels, boycotts, protests – I realized all avenues are needed to strive for a more just world.
– In Cape Coast, Ghana I studied at the university and found my way to a traditional dancing and drumming troupe. They let me study with them, too. The joy of music and moving bodies! The amazing history passed down.
– A big move to New York and its dynamic energy and diversity. For a girl who grew up in a small Southern town, I surprised myself with how instantly I felt at home. During these years I worked at different nonprofits, each doing great work (check out my credentials page for information on each one: Social Science Research Council, Public Allies, Symphony Space).
– A leap across the ocean, landing in Paris, France. New language, new cultural cues. Learning who I am again as I create a life abroad.
– A cyber community! For seven years, I penned a popular blog called paris (im)perfect about the quirkier side of the City of Light. What began as a personal project morphed into a vehicle through which I found my most lasting connections in France.
– Summers teaching creative writing to high school students in Barcelona, Spain. Here story + service meet.
– Launching Write-in Paris (WIP). Finally the dream of combining writing (solo activity) with community (communal scribble sessions). I host weekly sessions in my home.
– Return to Chapel Hill to assist family and volunteer to get out the vote. The results were not as I hoped. But all the more reason to stay. All the more reason to fight for what’s right. Turns out, sometimes it’s crucial to go home again.
– Also essential: openness to new experiences. Continuing to grow. Staying curious to the world around you. I’m off on a new journey now to Valencia, Spain. Can’t wait to discover what community I’ll find there!