Time with DC Residents Helps Bring Pressing Issues to Scale for Newark Cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows

September 5, 2017  • Youth Leadership Programs

Before diving into the curriculum for their third session, the Newark cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows (AYLF) scored one of the hottest tickets in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Fellows spent a couple of hours inside the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture before having dinner at Union Market on a seasonably mild DC night.

On Thursday, Fellows spent the day on Capitol Hill. While on the Hill, Fellows met and discussed issues ranging from healthy eating to public education with former US Secretary of Agriculture and congressman representing Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, Dan Glickman. After meeting with former Secretary Glickman, Fellows were led on a guided tour of the US Supreme Court. Back at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, MD, moderators led a discussion around the practice of leadership and the values that inform how one leads in the context of presidential speeches including George Washington’s Farewell Address and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses.

In and leading up to session two, Fellows practiced conducting empathy interviews. On Thursday, they got to put their skills to the test in DC’s Anacostia, Columbia Heights, and Tenleytown neighborhoods. In groups of two, Fellows listened to residents’ perspectives on the history and culture of their neighborhoods and the capital city.

“I’ve learned that people, even if they grow up in a similar area…can have very different perspectives… Just getting into how people think and why they think a certain way and how that manifests in their actions…has been really interesting.”
— AYLF Newark Fellow, Laïssa Alexis

Providing opportunities to hone observational and critical thinking skills – observing socioeconomic disparity and inequity and thinking critically about others’ perspectives and their own – Friday’s empathy interviews spurred Fellows to think, and ultimately engage each other, more critically around issues of race and equity, socioeconomic status, and community development.

AYLF Newark Fellow Anthony Conte conducts an empathy interview in Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Fellows drew direct lines between some of what Anacostia, Columbia Heights, and Tenleytown residents shared and issues facing their home community of Newark – understanding that critical issues of the day are critical to individuals from all walks of life on a national, and at times global, scale.

“In a world that’s becoming more and more polarized and difficult to have good communications with other people, that’s what’s really impacted me, that they’re teaching us how to communicate and how to be caring and loving and respectful.”
— AYLF Newark Fellow, Stephanie Avila

Between empathy interviews in Anacostia and before taking the DC Metro to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to continue capturing perspectives from DC locals, the group walked from the Big Chair – a symbol of economic opportunity, unity, and good will in the Anacostia neighborhood – to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site where they took a moment to reflect on Douglass’ life and leadership.

AYLF Newark Fellows Brenda Velarde (left) and Dionysus Rodriguez (right) take in the sights at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Fellows couldn’t have asked for better weather for a day of fun in the sun on the National Mall on Saturday. In teams of three, Fellows searched the Mall and surveyed the Washington Monument; the Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and World War II Memorials; and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for clues to questions of historical significance spanning our nation’s history – stopping to unpack presidential speeches including John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Ronald Reagan’s address on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Address to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War, and George W. Bush’s Address on the US Response to the Attacks of September 11 at each stop along the way.

The Newark cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows will reconvene for their fourth session over the weekend of November 17 and 18 back in Newark.

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