Pain of Silence and the Beauty of Dialogue

I love this vibrant city. Everyone is on a mission to accomplish something big. I have enjoyed being among people who thrive in this fast-paced environment. Traveling through the subway in the early morning among men and women in suits makes me feel important. I am seeing a glimpse of what my professional life after college could be like, which is both scary and exciting. The city is also very expensive, which is a constant reminder for me of how privileged I am to have parents who are able to supplement my WOW stipend. There are many students whose financial standing would not allow them to do a summer internship, which is why the existence of the WOW fellowship program is so critical.

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Ruth Messinger, former president and now Global Ambassador of AJWS

In my work environment, there are a lot more opportunities at work to collaborate with different groups of people. AJWS has many different departments, but they are interdependent. For instance, the Program Division selects which grassroots organizations AJWS funds, but the grants that are given to these organization would not be possible without the work of the Development Division which is responsible for fundraising. The Communications Department creates the materials that describe our work that are essential to Development Division which utilizes them to engage donors. I have been learning about the importance, but also the challenges of collaborative work. It requires a lot of open discussions and compromises, which I see happening here everyday. These are important lessons that will be useful for any of my future career plans. I have been meeting with individuals in different departments to learn more about their professional experiences and their work at AJWS. These meetings have been very insightful for me. Before this internship, I did not know so many different career options existed within the nonprofit world. I can see myself working in the Programs Division because I am so passionate about grassroots movements, and I can also see myself working as a fundraiser in the Development Division. As for skills, I have been working a lot more with Raiser’s Edge database which is a great skill to have as I continue in the nonprofit sector.

The staff has been extremely welcoming and friendly. However, coming into work this past week has been difficult. The media coverage of all the black lives lost due to police brutality has been tough to digest. As a person of color, I find the constant dehumanization of black and brown bodies in this country to be extremely infuriating and I wish all of America felt the same way. I felt isolated, but I remember feeling grateful that I work at a human rights organization. I thought my work environment would provide me with a space to engage in dialogue and be among colleagues who would be equally outraged. However, I came into work and I was disappointed to see that there was silence. Everyone was proceeding as if it was a normal day at work. I attempted to start a conversation with some people, but the responses ranged from blank faces to statements like “I know it is so sad.”

Our new president, Robert Bank, sent a heartfelt email to the staff during the Orlando shooting in which he offered support and acknowledged the different ways each staff was mourning. The organization as whole released a statement standing in solidarity with the families of the victims and calling for justice. Therefore, I repeatedly refreshed my email imbox hoping to see a similar email and statement about standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and an acknowledgement of all the lives lost, but no such email was sent and no statement was released.

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Robert Bank, new president of AJWS

When the interns this week met with the Robert, I had an opportunity to ask him about this silence. My question opened up a dialogue about how difficult it is for AJWS to decide which domestic human rights issues it should respond to. Robert discussed how AJWS, as a non political organization, wants to maintain focus on the social movements they we support in the 19 developing countries in which we work. Additionally, when international organizations begin taking a stance regarding many different domestic issues their mission becomes confusing to their supporters. AJWS responded to the Orlando shooting because we fund many organizations abroad that are working for LGBT rights. However, AJWS also funds organizations that are working to protect the lives of blacks and people of color. For instance, AJWS has spoken out against and funds social movement organizations in the Dominican Republic that use the courts and media advocacy to defend equal rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent. The horrid discrimination of Dominicans of Haitian descent is entirely an issue of racism. In other words, while I understand that different factors complicate the decision of whether to take a stance or not,  the brutalization of black and brown bodies is a global human rights issue and no one should remain silent. While I praise and admire the work of AJWS, I will continue to ask these challenging questions and start a dialogue because there is always room for growth and improvement, and I feel lucky to be at an organization that is open to hearing constructive criticism and constantly looks to improve.

Marian Gardner ’18

2 thoughts on “Pain of Silence and the Beauty of Dialogue”

  1. I think you bring up a really important point about what issues organizations speak about. I understand that many organizations want to stay “non-politcal,” but at the same time, I think that in many cases, staying silent is a political statement. What is seen as a political cause for some people can by an issue that affects other directly in their everyday lives.

  2. Marian,

    Your work at AJWS sounds incredible. The organizational structure of AJWS sounds very effective and collaborative, like each department builds off another to succeed. It definitely sounds like the skills you are learning will translate into any nonprofit-sector job in your future. I am in awe of your grace and power in challenging your organization to change their silence on the horrific events occurring this summer. Because you asked questions, talked to Robert Bank, and began conversations, you were able to push AJWS to stand up for Black and Brown bodies at home and abroad. Your work is so important and needed in human rights organizations to make the conversation not just include international human rights issues but ones that happen outside our front doors as well. Thank you for your meaningful, inspiring work.

    Best,

    Ruby

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