I’ve been home for a few weeks since finishing my time as a Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow. Six weeks never felt so long and short—reflecting on my experience has been of a challenge as I journey to understand the short-term and long-term impacts of this amazing opportunity.
What first comes to mind is that we were really a great cohort. I enjoyed listening to the stories of my fellow fellows, whose interests varied across a wide range of disciplines, hobbies, and backgrounds. I loved my cohort in its entirety. We were able to constructively challenge each other, and I can say that I feel more knowledgeable, compassionate, and equipped to take on the world because of them. Plus, we took a lot of group photos.
But there are always a few special folks in a group with whom you have shared experiences, goals, visions, and dreams. My fab five were incredibly good to me. Dragging Brian for pretending as if no one knew what/were Duke was never got old. Watching Sam laugh hysterically at the slightest misfortune or amusement left me wishing I could see his smile forever. Challenging Leondré (and being challenged back) on some of the issues of our community forced me to be introspective beyond points of comfort. And Dorothy. Oh Dorothy, the matriarch of four uncontained boys, how I miss her presiding over our group’s nightly debriefs. She tried to smack some sense into us.
In a similar vein, being in D.C. afforded me the opportunity to catch up with old friends from various points in my life. Brendan, who left Michigan when we graduated high school and hasn’t really seemed to look back since, came down with his girlfriend Lala and checked out Mount Vernon with me. I hadn’t seen Erica since July of 2014, but it felt as though time never escaped us when we first caught up over brunch at Founding Farmers. My Auntie Toya drove up from Fredericksburg to have dinner with me before the 4th of July. You can’t travel anywhere without seeing an Obie, so I caught up with Debs and Jessie (and Jessie’s beautiful family, whom invited me to help prepare a delicious meal at their home). Two of my favorite kids and favorite folks on Semester at Sea, Daniel and Emma and the Karlin-Jacobson squad, had me over on an exceedingly hot day to reminiscence on the good times at sea. My Aunt Lisa, an Alexandria, VA native, and I shared many laughs over musicals at The Kennedy Center, strange positions that her puppers Bugsy and Cleo would end up in, and the amazing homemade meals she prepared. What I might consider most special was when my family, Deb, India, Deon, and the boys DJ and Cruz, came up from Detroit to D.C. and spent the 4th of July at Mount Vernon with me. DJ’s surprised face with the George Washington interpreter was priceless.
As it goes regarding special people, I could never go without mentioning my awesome roommate Ron. I beg for the late nights we spent singing “When We Were Young” by Adele or “Feels” by Calvin Harris, or for him begging me to watch Game of Thrones and me fervently refusing. Sleeping in ’till the very last moment and enabling each other’s aversion to getting out of bed. Ron and I went through the works, and I wouldn’t have rather “bunked” with anyone else.
Beyond my cohort, Mount Vernon afforded me some incredible moments and memories. Visiting the White House, regardless of who sleeps in it at night, was an experience I’ve been looking forward to since I was a child. Having a talkback with Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is still an unfathomable encounter I’ll never forget. Sitting next to V.P. Candidate Tim Kaine was an absolute honor. Snapping
a selfie with the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, a Black woman, truly made me feel capable in my identity and heritage. But meeting with dignitaries and taking awesome site visits to places like The Washington Post Headquarters, The Pentagon, and even Mount Vernon itself couldn’t take the place of the good times I had with friends.
I’ll really always be indebted to Mount Vernon. The hospitality that the entire community showed me was truly warm and spectacular. Sometimes too good—we were treated like VIPs. The opportunity to work on Writing Center approaches and development gave me space to flush out ideas I’ve had and haven’t had time to process. Our fearless leader—Julie, Sean, and Mama Mel—seemed truly interested in our success. Janessa and Tyler, our program interns, were fantastic in their guidance and for simply putting up with our shenanigans.
And I can’t forget George Washington in all of this. I appreciate what George Washington did for my country, flaws and all. By no means was he perfect and I’m really not interested in making a value judgement (but if I was, I’d consider his relationship to slavery and social performance of humility and gentility). Washington believed in the great American project: the messy, laborious, but rewarding work of giving a self-fulfilling people the opportunity to govern their own. His life and leadership shall forever remain a point on my moral compass.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways. The ability to emphasize and center diverse voices, to be a disruptor, is a skill I’m continually working on. Making sure that everyone gets a seat at the table, or has their personhood represented, is paramount to my work in advocacy. Folks like Dorothy, who inspired me in her fearlessness in speech and willingness to expend emotional labor, truly make the world a better place. Our existence is resistance.
Thanks, Mount Vernon.
A few more miscellaneous photos of my time in D.C., including some random selfies, photos from the National Museum for African-American History and Culture, and not-so-candid photos of myself.