Time flew by, and now my internship at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is coming to a close. At the beginning of the summer, one of my personal goals was to educate people about their civil rights so that they could be their own advocates. I soon realized, as cliché as it may sound, that I was the one learning from these presentations. Over the course of the summer, I gave presentations to hundreds of people, and these individual interactions—listening to people’s stories and feeling their gratitude—truly made me realize the difficulty but importance of this work.
One particular presentation stands out in my mind. At this presentation at a halfway house, I found it very hard to focus; the women had not been informed that I would be coming, the childcare volunteers cancelled last minute, and two of the women did not speak any English. I almost wanted to call it a day, seeing as I had to keep pausing and trying to engage the audience and ignore the distractions. Then I noticed during one of the brief moments of calm two women suddenly paid close attention, one exclaiming that she never knew that she had these rights, while the other nodded vigorously in agreement. They then mentioned that they had to inform the other women who could not attend the presentation.
While I may not have discovered through this internship what it is exactly I want to do career-wise, moments like these offered clarity as to what sort of feelings I want to have and elicit at a job. I think that if I focus less on what field I want to go into, or what particular job I think I might like, and concentrate instead on what issues I am passionate about, and how I can have the most impact on an individual level, I will be better able to determine what I want to study, where I want to work, and what type of job I want to have.
Now that I have a taste of what civil rights advocacy on the enforcement side of the law is like, I am interested in experiencing what goes on in order to pass a policy or a law. Now I can better comprehend the necessity of education and advocacy even after a law or policy is passed, which will prepare me if I want to advocate for changes in policies.
For anybody interested in working at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, I would recommend doing as many presentations as you can with another intern—it is very useful to have another perspective, and you will be less nervous with somebody else there to help. After one summer working at a government law enforcement agency, I am hardly an expert, but if somebody is interested in this field, I think it is important to have as many personal interactions as possible to remind you why you are doing all of the other (perhaps less exciting) work.
In psychology, there is a term called co-morbidity—when two conditions occur simultaneously. That is, when you have one condition, it is likely that you have another particular one. In my short time at the MCAD, I learned something that perhaps I already knew, albeit subconsciously. The people who stood to benefit the most from the information I provided were the very ones who had many other pressing issues (e.g., poor health, poverty, domestic violence, etc.). At times, this was a bit discouraging, because I felt like the information I wanted to spread would not help somebody with his or her other issues.
I realized, sadly, that it is not possible to help every single person with every single issue, but if there were nobody doing this type of education and outreach, it would add to that list of struggles that people face daily. Simply letting people know that there are organizations and people out there to help them can be important, and educating one person can lead to a whole family, and eventually a whole community being educated. Achieving social justice in its many forms—equal opportunity being one of them—is not something that can occur overnight. While this is not a novel idea by any means, this internship brought it to the forefront of my mind, and has only made me determined to work harder in every capacity to try to achieve social justice.