Six months ago I remember my gut wrenching with excitement at the possibility of being a Karel Fellow. I started off my career at the University of Florida as a journalism major with the hopes of becoming a bonafide storyteller. Somewhere along the way, I fell into public relations. I’m not sure of the how or why, but I lost direction quickly. Luckily enough, at the time of my quarter-life crisis, I got involved with frank. This conference brought together communicators, scholars, storytellers and practitioners from different fields who were committed to using their voices to help their respective communities. Admittedly, I found some of the personalities to be kooky and there were folks who I passionately disagreed with. But then there were others. Others who completely inspired me to pull myself up by the bootstraps and do more. Listen more. See more. Be more. I saw a chance to pursue something with substance and to use my voice within the communications field to tell the stories of others.
As I ferociously typed out my Karel Fellowship application essays one February night, I dreamt of riding the metro into D.C., dressed to the professional nines and ready to make a positive impact on this world. To try out this thing they called public interest communications, or at least learn something along the way. I was completely and understandably oblivious of what the rest of the year would hold. If someone had walked up to me and told me that six months from that moment we would be living through a pandemic, that our nation would be at the brink of a social revolution, and that the world would be so invested in one Oklahoma man’s account of tiger breeding, I would have chalked it all up to conspiracy. But here we are.
My experience thus far has been challenging. I went from having a stable job, to being completely unemployed, to working three. When I’m not spending my weekends serving food or fighting off the masked retail crowds, I wake up and walk two feet to my desk and then spend eight fatiguing hours staring at my screen. While working virtually can be rough, I should consider myself lucky. Many of my peers had their internships canceled, but I was still able to pursue my Fellowship while sustaining a regular income. But I felt guilty because while everyone had their internships stolen from them, I was feeling uneasy about mine.
When we think of fellowships, we often think of wonderful learning experiences filled with on-the job-training and some polished bullet points to slap onto our resumes. Maybe even a paycheck with the thrill of spending it on the exploration of a new city filled with new people. But we often forget the most important part of these experiences: building resiliency. At least, that’s the most important takeaway I have gotten so far. I was matched with Families USA, a leading nonprofit that focuses on healthcare and consumer advocacy. I remember feeling a pit in my stomach when I heard the news. In my D.C. daydreams, I imagined myself working towards human rights, youth advocacy or environmental advocacy. But health? It just seemed so outside of my wheelhouse and that mindset admittedly ruined my first few weeks. I psyched myself out and even missed my first deadline. I felt like I had failed. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized that health touches all these issues. Yes, I feel challenged every day, but as we address racial inequality and the lack of accessible healthcare during this pandemic, there is no better time to be a health advocate.