As the Coronavirus spreads across the world, institutions and countries are taking steps to stop, or at least slow, the spread of the disease. In other countries, governments are instituting lockdowns and quarantines, offering free tests and medications, and providing flexibility and time-off during this terrifying time. As the virus spreads in the United States, private colleges are moving towards online learning, organizations are canceling conferences, and employers are putting in measures to allow more flexibility with time-off or working-from-home. Amidst all of this, there are conversations online about the many factors which make navigating a global outbreak of this level particularly difficult (i.e. class, homelessness, disability, etc.) under the United States’ brand of capitalism. Among these conversations have also been smaller ones of community care and the importance of connection to overcome hardship.
As someone who came from a huge and dedicated family, community has always been the most important thing for me. Growing up, I saw my family mourn, celebrate, and troubleshoot together. Even after moving to Mississippi, our community was still there. People drove to visit and vice versa. We traveled to Atlanta regularly for weddings, funerals, births, and everything in between. There was virtually no struggle we could not overcome because there was always a family/community member there to provide support along the way. When I moved thousands of miles away from my community for college, one of my focuses was developing my own chosen family. This time last year, as graduation inched closer and people figured out where they would end up after graduation, I became increasingly anxious about becoming separated from the people who I laughed, cried, screamed, and grew with over the past four years. Although developing intentional community requires time and devotion I could only hope that wherever I ended up, I would find people in my work environment that would support and challenge me in the ways that professors and employers on campus had for the past four years.
As I researched RE·Center Race & Equity in Education in preparation for my Fellowship interview, one of the things I noticed was the value of “Relationships and Community.” As the website reads, “recognizing and valuing people’s humanity is essential to creating the type of community needed to challenge systemic oppression.” I was excited to see this explicitly laid out and was instantly drawn to learning more about the work that RE·Center does. Over my past six months here, I have had the opportunity to do work on the communications, administrative, and external sectors of the organization and throughout it all I have seen a true embodiment of this value. All meetings begin with a check-in to recognize people in their full humanity before diving into work, notifications of staff or family illness are met with offers of support from across the office, staff and board members are accessible regardless of the level of power, and programs are built to cultivate relationships among students and educators. The work is truly done “with people- not for people.” The kindness and warmth of the RE·Center team is one that I felt as soon as I walked through the door in August, 2019, and one that has been consistent throughout my time here.
As a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow, I am undergoing this year-long experience alongside 12 other incredible Fellows. Sharing memes, asking for advice, and meeting up with one another when we can; we are navigating the hardships of this first year out of college and the nuances of office life together. We have held one another through rough patches and celebrated one another’s successes. In addition to my cohort, I have also received support from Fellows past with navigating graduate school applications and life as a Fellow. In many ways the Fellowship relationship feels like a multigenerational family with Caitlin and Diana as our mentors.
These past six months have not been easy by any stretch of the imagination. I have completed multiple projects at work including developing a communications plan in partnership with external consultants, developing internal social media guidelines, managing and writing for our blog, fundraising, and putting together our 2018-19 annual report. Through all these (and other) projects and the general stresses of life, the 2020 election, and a global virus outbreak, I have been incredibly thankful to be a part of both the RE·Center and Fellowship Community and know that the people I have met along the way will be in my life for years to come.
By SabriAnan Micha – 2019-2020 NOF Fellow at RE-Center, Hartford, CT