Growing Into Oneself

Bettina here – the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow at the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) in Washington, D.C.

There’s been a lot of changes since I last wrote for this blog — certainly, here in our nation’s capital. In fact, the last time I wrote for this blog, I was gushing over having literally shared the same air particles as then-President Obama. With all the changes that has been taking place in this city, that moment seemed like a lifetime ago.

From an outsider’s perspective, I suppose one could say I’ve also changed, personally and professionally, from the first few months of my fellowship to now the last month. As a recent graduate, I was very inexperienced in the workplace when I started, especially in the specific workplace I was assigned to. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am the only non-Native person — without any background on Native issues — in my team working for Native youth.

In my first blog, I wrote about how thankful I was for being part of a team that was welcoming and open to answering all my incessant and borderline ignorant questions (though asked respectfully, of course). I still have a lot of learning to do, but a recent call with Diana (our fellowship momma bear, as I like to think of her), who helped me reflect over the past year, made me realize how much I have learned and taken ownership of the knowledge I have gained at CNAY. While I certainly don’t purport to be an expert on any topic related to indigenous peoples in the US, I am able to at least report out topical issues and serve as an advocate for Native youth priorities to those who, as I often think of it, were “like me before June 2016” — those who have zero knowledge of Indian Country, but are willing to learn for the sake of learning.

I guess you can call that a “change.”

But I don’t necessarily believe that people change. I believe that people grow into themselves.

In this instance, I didn’t change from being ignorant to open-minded and enlightened, so to speak. I’ve always cared about people and learning about people — my learning just grew with the experience.

Over this past (almost) year, one of the greatest gifts the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship has given me has been this accelerated growth into myself. I thoroughly believe that had I instead taken an ordinary entry-level job, particularly in some corporate stockyard that my conservative liberal arts education was ushering me towards, I would be spending the foreseeable future floundering around in the dark depths of the workforce without so much as a guiding sliver of light. A neophyte, like myself, needs light and nurturing in order to grow, and that is exactly what this fellowship gave me.

Folks at the Foundation like Diana, our various career/life coaches, guest speakers, and — most importantly — my cohort, helped me put into words things that I already knew about myself but never actively acknowledged. (On top of all the management trainings, connections, etc.) With their help, I realized that I am a mission- and impact- driven individual. I realized that I thrive best in collaborative environments, as opposed to competitive ones. I realized that, despite feeling out of place in my education and work experience prior to the fellowship, that there are working, successful professional people like me! People who care about mission over profit, people who are committed to doing good work and serving others, people who care about people!

And I know these people – my friends, my fellow fellows – Cheyenne, Alleyah, Ariel, Eugenié, Sarah, Lea, Njideka, Dalé, Davante, Elisa, Amethyst, and Abbisola (in no particular order!) – will only continue growing and making an enormous impact on the world. I am sure of it! As Paul Newman said in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals” — and again, that vision is thanks to this fellowship.

On top of my Newman’s Own Foundation family, I was doubly lucky to have been hosted by the incredibly talented and committed team at CNAY. I would be remiss not to acknowledge them and their role in my growth this year. Thanks to the CNAY team and the inspiring Native youth I have met over the past year, not only have I grown my knowledge of indigenous issues, I have also grown my professional experience ten-fold, grown my pride of my own culture, and grown my understanding of what effective leadership and collaboration looks like. To my team members, past and present – Josie (extra props to her for being an awesome mentor/supervisor), Erik, Amber, Teddy, Ryan, Keith, Kara, and Aaron – thank you for sharing your knowledge, supporting me, and nurturing me as CNAY’s first Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow.

Here’s to all of our continued growth!

Gratefully with love,

Bettina

Fellow Love! The featured photo is of Ariel, Alleyah, and me (left to right), the DC-based Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows. Ariel and Alleyah came to support CNAY’s report release event of the 2016 State of Native Youth Report, a project that I had the privilege to manage.

2017 CFC and CNAY staff

The photo is of our CNAY Champions for Change, including Miss Indian World Danielle Finn, and the stellar CNAY staff after our Panel Discussion with the 2017 Champions for Change at The Aspen Institute. Be inspired by these amazing youth leaders like I am daily – watch here!