“The action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being represented.” That’s one of the Webster’s definitions of the word representation. To me, the word can have different meanings depending on the context. It can mean that someone has your back, that someone is looking out for you, or that someone is speaking for you when your voice cannot be heard.

I believe in the beauty of representation.

That was the opening statement for my closing presentation; my key take-away from my summer as a  Karel Fellow with Mary’s Center.

I know from my own experience how important it is to have the right kind of representation. This is what makes Mary’s Center so special, not only as a health center but as a place that consistently lifts up the community from the inside out.

We live in a world where for black and brown children, being exposed to white culture is unavoidable. Lucky for me, I came from a home where I was reminded on a daily basis just how beautiful and important I was. Because of that, my early experiences confronting racial representation in America didn’t hinder my self-esteem or growth.

Growing up as a minority in America teaches you that representation is everything.

We live in a society where biases exist simply because of someone’s racial differences. It is impossible not to see the effects of racism in our society and the underrepresentation of minority groups. It’s hard not to miss when watching the news or scrolling through social media.

If a black or brown child does not have the right representation, they can easily be swallowed up into a culture that constantly tells them there is no room for them. This summer I saw how Mary’s Center is changing that – one center at a time.

Thirty-one years and over 50,000 participants later, Mary’s Center has turned into a safe haven for mothers, fathers, and children, helping them find proper health care and guidance.

Mary’s Center hires graduates from its teen program and recruits people at community outreach events to make sure it’s staff is representative of the community. This is what true community engagement looks like.

Mary’s Center and the Karel Fellowship have taught me that in order for a community to truly flourish, the community has to be given chances to bloom and grow. In a culture that constantly tries to belittle the accomplishments and gains of minorities, there are places like Mary’s Center which use representation to consistently lift up the surrounding community.

One staff member at a time, Mary’s Center is becoming a representative voice for the community. This summer taught me that no matter what I end up doing, whether it’s working at a nonprofit or writing stories for a news outlet, my personal mission will always be to represent the voice of the underrepresented.

To future Fellows, the best piece of advice I can give you is to soak up as much information and experiences as you possibly can. This summer was filled with memorable conversations, remarkable people, and unforgettable bonds.