In my twelve weeks with Alliance for Justice, I have learned a lot about the United States’ judicial system—more than I ever thought I would know. As a result, I now have a deep appreciation for the people who are dedicating their careers to fighting for a fair and diverse judiciary, and a greater understanding of why our courts matter. You can read my thoughts on why young people should care about our state courts here. But as I wrap up my internship and reflect on the summer, my biggest takeaways have nothing to do with the U.S. judiciary.
This summer reminded me that everyone has a story. Behind their LinkedIn profile, job description, and the lag on their Zoom screen is a really interesting human being. As an intern during a virtual summer, it was easy to go through each day only interacting with my team, plus maybe a quick (and sometimes awkward) nod to another staff member while we waited for a Zoom meeting to begin. As I came in knowing virtually nothing about the federal judiciary and having little interest in pursuing law (the likely trajectory of many AFJ interns) or a job related to the judicial branch, it was easy to convince myself that any connections I made outside of my team wouldn’t be valuable.
And yet, as the summer went on, I made sure to reach out to and connect with AFJ staff whose roles had nothing to do with mine, and this is where I found that I learned and grew the most. These conversations weren’t necessarily meant to advance my career or to “network.” Instead, I learned how people spend their time when they’re not thinking about work, what their families are like, and where their favorite places to travel are. Along the way, I learned a lot about being a more thoughtful adult and what kind of professional I hope to become. Connecting with people is what is most instinctive for humans; it’s how we make friends and mentors, how we find people we can rely on, and how we navigate the world. Being the new and less “experienced” employee at an organization makes it daunting to reach out to new people. But, it also means that each connection you make is that much more transformative.
If I could give a piece of advice to anyone pursuing a career in the nonprofit world, or in any profession, it would be to take every opportunity to connect with your colleagues. You never know what interesting stories you might learn or what kind of impact you may have on someone else.
Social justice work is also exhausting. Anyone who commits their time and energy to advocate for a more equitable world exposes themselves to the very worst of our society, often because they’ve been personally harmed by a system that has failed them. The only way to avoid complete burnout is to be in community with others. I feel grateful that my colleagues at AFJ were open and excited to be meeting me and answering my often endless spew of questions, and I am looking forward to working on more teams in the future—regardless of the field—that foster this same opportunity for connection.