I have always been “good” at school. I did my homework, I was good at tests, and I acted in ways that are rewarded in the U.S. education system (others may call it “acting white,” which is insightful and reinforces the false narrative that whiteness is a superior way of being). School was a place I felt special, I felt capable, and I felt seen. It also left me with internalized anti-blackness because the only way I found myself succeeding was to act like my white counterparts, a mindset I’m still in the process of shedding.
My journey as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow led me to working with RE·Center Race & Equity in Education, a nonprofit in Hartford, CT, committed to building an equitable and just world where everyone has what they need to grow and thrive. We facilitate professional development for teachers and youth empowerment and consciousness-building for young people. We believe in human-centered anti-racism and anti-oppression programming, which we try to live out in our office environment as well. I joined the RE·Center team because I didn’t want other Black girls to think they had to discard their Blackness to succeed.
At RE·Center I’m a Research & Storytelling Fellow and I do a lot of Communications work, which is exciting because I’m led to this work by my passion for disrupting false narratives and uplifting the voices of people who don’t always have a platform to share their stories. I’ve developed a new website, helped write Annual Reports, and am a project manager on our Communications Plan.
My time in Hartford has been difficult for personal and professional reasons—ranging from the fact that it’s hard to relocate to a different place with no family and friends to the imposter syndrome that can come with a person’s first job out of college. I see RE·Center as an experiment in working in community. We try to live our values of equity, justice, and community. We don’t always succeed. My coworker has often told me it’s not if racism happens, it’s when. We’ve had racism, sexism, ageism, etc. crop up interpersonally and institutionally in our organization. That’s tough to deal with as a young black woman. Being black, being a woman, and my other identities take up much of my time and mental capacity. I found myself wondering how people manage to complete their 40+ hours of work while being triggered by (in my case racial) trauma, living in such a convulsive and conniving society, and dealing with imposter syndrome at the same time.
One of the best parts of my experience at RE·Center is figuring that out. Sometimes, I take time for myself. This might mean taking a mental health day or taking a walk. I might cry at a meeting (and not feel guilty!) Sometimes we talk about the social issues that torment us instead of “working.” My time as a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow at RE·Center has taught me that figuring out how to show up as whole and authentic as you can in spaces that would erase you is the work. That’s what we’re trying to bring into schools. That’s what anti-racism work is. I’ve found my life passion in disrupting false narratives and creating spaces where we show up whole to create social change. I’m endlessly thankful to the Newman’s Own Foundation for the opportunity to learn about myself and the nonprofit sector and can’t wait to see what life brings next.
By Amaryst Parks, NOF Fellow at RE-Center, Hartford, CT