S4EP9 : Advocating for the Future ft. Ashley Garrett
Hi ºF-TV family!
I hope you are well, at peace and enjoying the busy month of November! Speaking of which, wow, I can't believe the year is winding down. It's been an emotional and stressful year and one of the things that finally came to an end was finding out who would be our next president for the next four years.
I remember the first week of November being one of the most stressful weeks of 2020 for many of us! Everyone that I knew was anxious to find out who would win. For days, our nation was either glued to their phones, the tv or hanging on a thread with anxiety. I myself tried my very best to avoid doom scrolling and focused on self care. Finally after 5 days, it was announced that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won! I was relived and so were many of the people closest to me. It was a historic election indeed and we also elected our first Black & Brown Female Vice President! I watched endless memes, joyful dance sequences and empowering speeches from people all over the world on Instagram after the announcement. For many Americans, it felt like we got a dose of some much needed hope. However, we all know that half of the nation wasn't feeling that same joy. 70 MILLION people voted for Trump! It's crazy to me but not surprising. After 4 years of making America hate again, I can say that Trump successfully brought a lot of keyboard warriors and hidden ignorant folks to the center of the stage AND they are still calling this election bluff and Trump is still being a sore loser. It's embarrassing but this close election really proved just how divided we are as a nation. We got so much work to do.
Although I was relived Biden & Harris won, I am still very worried. Much like Obama during his first election, Biden & Harris are taking on A LOT on their plate and like all politicians, have made many promises. The first thing on their agenda is COVID19. This pandemic has been an ongoing stress factor for communities across the world but what made it so frustrating here in the USA, was the politicalization of it. I personally don't agree with how the Trump administration dealt with the pandemic, especially during the early stages of the virus outbreak. I feel like their lack of taking the virus seriously, caused many people to lose their lives AND further drive our country apart. Everything has become a political statement. From wearing a mask, to following COVID 19 safety guidelines, this virus outbreak doesn't seem like it's going to end. This unnecessary feud continues to cause COVID diagnosis to rise, fractures our health system and impacts our society and the global economy greatly.
One of the things I've been worried about is how community activism will show up in the new year. During the past four years under the Trump administration, I've been so happy to witness the uprising of community activism. From #BlackLivesMatter protests, to student-led marches across the nation, people were coming out of their comfort zones and standing up for social justice unapologetically, especially us Millennials and Gen Z folks. I worry that with this upcoming Biden/Harris administration, this uprising will end. Will people get too comfortable that Biden/Harris will fix it all? Will people get tired/uninterested in fighting for the same things? These are questions that continue to spin in my mind since the election results. I really hope community activism won't be a trend and for this month's episode, I decided to have this conversation with a community member I admire, Ashley Garrett.
I had the honor of meeting Ashley Garrett through our mutual friend, Ashley Lewis (who is also our ºF-TV Season 3 Director) this year. Both of these queens are best friends and this year, we've had the opportunity to do a few virtual episodes together on Ashley Lewis's podcast show XP Hunter on WBCA 102.5 FM on BNN community radio. Besides sharing great wisdom on a multitude of topics we discussed on the podcast show, Ashley Garrett also has a lot of experience working in Public Service. One of her past jobs was working for the Obama Administration! That's pretty dope to say that your boss is the former 44th President, Barack Obama! When Ashley G. shared this, I of course asked a million questions and was so intrigued, inspired and proud to get to know such an amazing young leader. With all of the crazy things that happened this year politically, I wanted to talk to someone who could give us some advice on how we can continue to show up and fight for our communities & values beyond the polls.
Ashley comes from a lineage of doers and leaders. Her grandmother, a Texas native, who was very involved in community outreach and engagement, would often take young Ashley along with her during her outings. Ashley and her young cousins would help their grandmother put up signs around Boston neighborhoods, urging folks to get involved in community issues and events. Her father is a Vietnam Veteran and instilled in her the importance of fighting for the future. One of the things I learned from her stories about her grandmother and father was that not only are they resilient people, but self made leaders who made the best of what they had AND shared that wisdom with others. Her family's influence motivated Ashley to do the same.
In school she excelled in her academics and got involved in extracurricular activities where she could build upon her leadership skills and bridge students together. Ashley enrolled at Wesleyan University in 2008 and despite having challenges adjusting to the prestigious school, she continued to stay actively involved in political science. She talked about how it was hard defending her views and speaking up in a class, especially when she was the only Black woman in majority of her courses. Nonetheless, Ashley prevailed and graduated with a B.A. from the university. She then decided to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. and that's when she decided to apply for an internship position at the White House. "When I got it, I was just stunned." Ashley graciously accepted the position and the experience changed her life!
It was busy being an intern for the White House during the Obama Administration. Her day to day included doing a variety of administrative and business tasks for her higher ups, all while balancing work AND her graduate studies as a newcomer to the city. She definitely felt homesick but was very grateful for phone calls with family and friends who kept her spirit and strength up! She also talked about the dark side of working for the government. When she worked with the White House, they got death threats almost everyday! It was scary but as Ashley explained to us,"you just gotta put your feet to the fire." Soon, Ashley got another position, this time with the Pentagon for the Department of Defense, where she worked particularly on policies for infectious diseases. She learned a lot during her years with the Obama Administration and one of her favorite memories was meeting our forever FLOTUS, Michelle Obama!
"I think it was great because it was a very candid experience. So it's off the record, you know there's no press or anything of that sort and so you get a glimpse of her as a person." Ashley explained how natural it felt to relate with the first lady and how Michelle shared some great wisdom with her, especially encouraging her and her fellow interns to make time for themselves and to prioritize making time to rest. Ashley also shared with us how kind the first lady was, Michelle not only took a photo with everyone but also gave genuine hugs to all of the interns. "I remember I was like, oh my god! I'm hugging the first lady of the United States, the first Black lady of the United States who looks like me, who has the same cheek bones like me."
Watch the full interview to hear more cool White House stories on our YouTube channel here!
During our interview, Ashley and I also talked about how challenging 2020 has been for many of us around the world. One of the biggest frustrations of 2020 for me, has been the ongoing goal of getting politics out of public health. COVID19 has completely changed our world and currently we are seeing the highest number of Corona Virus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. As Ashley shared with us,"what has made this situation so terrible is the politicization of it. It has blocked a lot of the natural safety that we usually would have." 2020 heightened everything that was under the rug for some and brought light to issues the American society tends to ignore. With the level and magnitude of this ongoing pandemic, people were not prepared for it and it quickly has also impacted our presidential election this year.
Learning from her grandmother, Ashley quickly decided to get involved and encourage her peers to utilize their voices in this year's presidential election. She worked at the polls during the elections this year and talked about how important that experience was for her, especially as a young adult. "I'm one of those people that if I can try to help in the best way possible, safely, I'm going to help." We talked about the inspiration of civil rights leaders like John Lewis, who transitioned earlier this year and how his selfless bravery and continued leadership (even after the violence he endured during the civil rights era) continued to champion community members to get involved in their government. Ashley encourages us to do the same.
"Keep the momentum in trying to move the needle a little bit forward every time. Regardless of how you personally feel, people deserve equality. A lot of issues that we're seeing now are human rights issues. They are not just Trans issues, Black issues, Latino issues or women's issues or men's issues, these are human rights."
There are many ways one can help their community thrive. Ashley shared some helpful tips with us during our interview that we think can apply to any election and/or any person looking to make a difference. Watch the video below to learn more!
5 ways to get involved in community activism
Get Yourself involved in local things. Get yourself into those meetings and rooms where conversations are happening regarding your zip code or state. Look up your city councilors, be in communication with them on issues that matter to you the most.
Run for office! Locally or nationally
Do research on your elected officials to see know their opinions/plans on issues that matter to you. When you are informed, you know who you're voting for.
You can write to your officials. Contact them on social media, email, phone. As Ashley pointed out, they have teams of people who will respond. As Ashley reminds us, "Don't stop writing because your voice matters."
Work or volunteer with community groups and organizations that already exist. Donate if you can.