Born in Fairfax County and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, I have had the pleasure of living in Virginia my entire life. My parents were each raised in rural, relatively impoverished, Black communities and came to Virginia seeking better economic opportunities than their hometowns offered. Today my parents have found greater economic success than either thought possible as people of color from rural America. Still in touch with family and friends from their hometowns, my parents have used their good fortune to support their communities. Additionally, they were able to provide me with a life inconceivable to them 30 years ago.

When I was growing up, it was not always easy to see my privilege or come to terms with what it means to be a Black person in America. In many parts of Northern Virginia, many of the social and political issues that have plagued the United States since its inception are not immediately visible and, therefore, are easily ignored. In many ways, that environment sheltered me from the systemic issues that ravage disenfranchised communities. From early on, my parents recognized how I could become removed from the realities beyond my immediate surroundings. They always emphasized the role race and economic status play in everyday lives and encouraged me to reflect on the hardships of other individuals from traditionally oppressed groups.

My parents' lessons about socio-economic hardships and oppression did not always hit home because I could not fully comprehend what they were trying to tell me. Upon reflection, a light switch flipped when I first learned about the confederacy in elementary school. At the kitchen table, my mom explained to me the history of the Southern United States and its impact on our own family and loved ones. I remember just having the most visceral reaction, crying and upset. I could not make sense of the extent of the cruelty and suffering that had been inflicted by the institution of slavery. I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time, but I don’t know that I have ever felt such overwhelming emotional distress since that day. That experience is the closest I have come to grasping what it means to be a Black American, and it has informed my worldview since.

Last December I graduated with a degree in Political Science and English with a minor in History. I chose classes that would broaden my worldview, allow me to understand and empathize with people from other backgrounds and enable me to analyze the systems of inequality and oppression in the United States. Simultaneously, I had the opportunity to intern for lobbyists, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and advocacy organizations, which allowed me to find where I might fit in the fight for change.

Now as the legal intake assistant for the ACLU of Virginia, I have the opportunity to engage with Virginians whose civil rights are being violated. By reviewing the stories of these Virginians I can identify helpful resources and draw the attention of my colleagues to statewide issues. As I grow in my new role, I hope to hold onto the experiences of my own family and loved ones and apply my passion for their struggles to the struggles of all Virginians. I look forward to learning from my colleagues and bringing empathy and compassion to the core responsibilities of my position.