Interning at Nehemiah this semester was a fulfilling experience. I learned more about what it is like working in a multicultural environment with an organization that is Black-led. I learned more about the work that Nehemiah and Justified Anger do in order to improve Black communities in Madison. Lastly, I explored and learned more about myself and how I can improve my understanding of the historical impact of the oppression of Black people and their continued resistance to better advocate for racial equity and work to dismantle current systemic issues.
Starting from the interview process, where the staff took the time to understand my strengths, weaknesses, and how I appreciate receiving constructive feedback, to sitting in on the Monday staff meetings and continuously being reminded of how much the well-being of the staff is valued at Nehemiah. I learned more about the nature of the workplace environment and how Nehemiah is a Polychronic workplace where multiple tasks may be worked on simultaneously by employees and where value is placed on interpersonal relationships. This was a shift for me, in my limited work experience so far, where strict deadlines and improving efficiency by how much one can get done in a certain amount of time was valued. It was important for me to understand that distinction early on in order to reorient my assumptions and shift my ideas of what productivity looks like. I learned that I operate better in a Polychronic environment and have felt less pressure and more inspired to gain more experience and make the most out of being surrounded by the passionate and creative staff and volunteers.
I learned a great deal about Nehemiah and Justified Anger because coming into the experience as someone who trained as a court observer and had not done much work other than that, I had limited knowledge of the variety of direct services, education, and advocacy the organization takes part in. The Black History for a New Day course has left a lasting impression on me in terms of having a better understanding of how social and systemic inequalities that exist today for African Americans are rooted in history. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Black resilience throughout history as well as the harsh realities and trauma that African Americans still carry. I believe that understanding the nuances of this history will allow me to better advocate and put my knowledge to action in the work as a court observer for Criminal and Eviction court, as well as understanding the importance of capturing data to better assess the needs of tenants and defendants, making the process better for them.
In multiple contexts, I was confronted with my own personal hurdles as I began immersing myself in social justice work. I realized how I struggle with addressing and talking about issues regarding racial equity, especially when others do not hold the same views as I do. I viewed systemic racism and the history of African Americans in the United States as common sense coming into this internship. It was baffling to me how non-Black people and some others are unaware of the reality of American history, which cannot be accurately taught if Black people are excluded. Black history is filtered in middle and high school and people may not understand the complex nature of historical events if they do not actively seek out interest in those areas. I learned how to be more confident in my stance, while still understanding that others may not have received the knowledge and experiences that I have. It is important to build healthy relationships with people and communicate at the level of people who are misinformed in order to better understand their true feelings about issues regarding racial inequity and educate them or provide them with helpful resources to educate themselves.
I still have some growing and learning to do and in the midst of that, I hope to continue to stay passionate about the work that needs to get done, not becoming discouraged by what may seem like setbacks. Overall, my few months of experience interning at Nehemiah has been a journey of growth and gaining an increased sense of awareness of myself, institutions, and others in society. Next semester, I want to expand my knowledge of court advocacy and important behind the scenes and direct services work that contribute to the overall mission of “eliminating racial disparities in the greater Madison area.”