As I walked outside the airport, the overwhelming heat and humidity hit me. I immediately dreaded the upcoming two months in which I had to take the bus to my worksite. In this dreadful weather. Great start—I couldn’t see my brother graduate from high school, my flight was delayed for over 3 hours, I had a terrible heartburn… I was physically in Charlotte, but I didn’t know if I were ready.
Nevertheless, I was excited—excited to start working with incredible individuals who have dedicated their careers to supporting children and families in need; excited to discover what a “regular work day” would be like; excited to explore a new city; excited to get to know people in the program and in the community; excited to learn. So, with such mixed feelings—and perhaps doubts about myself, the city, and the program itself—I began my journey in Charlotte.
Reading about the city beforehand, I learned that Charlotte has been a hotspot for civil rights movement (especially as it pertains to race and education; for example, see Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education). Therefore, I wholeheartedly hoped that this city would’ve reached milestones due to its historical legacy of fighting against racial injustice among the individuals in the community. I thought, perhaps, its recent economic boom was tied with the possible efforts to amend the mistakes of the past. Concurrently, though, in the back of my head, I thought—nah, people never learn. Racism is too deeply engrained into this nation. I would bet a stranger a thousand bucks that this city is still noticeably segregated. I desperately hoped that the former was true; however, the latter was.
And the latter reality was apparent. The racial divide in this city is extremely obvious. The economic development, landscape, housing, etc., are heavily separated by where each racial group lives. Big roads cut through un-gentrified neighborhoods. The transportation system is unreliable, for most people using it are poor people of color. I could go on and on. Observing and then writing about the reality that literally surrounds me, as I sit comfortably in an airconditioned dorm room, feels wrong. Guilt and anger permeated throughout my insides. However, this ambivalence—this feeling of fury as well as the excitement of a new beginning—strongly influenced my path with DukeEngage so far.
Over past few days, I made a promise to myself that, whatever I do in these next few weeks, I will be intentional. My time is short here, but my time can also be valuable here. Every time I notice my frustration growing, I will reflect—critically engage in why I am feeling such way; learn about the history of the nation as well as the city itself; listen to people in this community; contemplate on my role as a highly-educated person, an activist, an intern at a government agency, an Asian woman, and a constant learner and a leader who is learning. I wish to utilize this opportunity to open myself to uncomfortable truths and actively listen—and not just listen to respond.
Right now, I’m asking myself: what can a student intern at a government agency that supports wellbeing and legal proceedings of children who are abused and neglected (Guardian Ad Litem) do in front of a computer, on a desk? My day-to-day work here seems so distant from the community that I would like to help. Am I even a help? I wish to figure my role here, and hope that the little things I do will catalyze a small change in the juvenile justice system.