When it comes to my professional life, I cannot think of an experience as intellectually, mentally, emotionally and physically challenging as the John Lewis Fellowship. Even though I previously studied a lot of horrific moments in history of the United States, since it is a part of the American Studies Center curriculum, and was well aware of genocide of the Indigenous peoples, slavery, Manifest Des- tiny, Jim Crow Laws, boarding schools, police brutality and family separation, none of that fully prepared me for what I was about to discover. It is impossible to be prepared for such disturbing truths, this knowledge requires to be illustrated, experienced and felt, and this program gave us an opportunity to do quite so.
I was caught up in the beauty of that moment, that we live in time where people of Ukrainian, American, Polish, Romanian, Bosnian, Danish, German, Greek, Vietnamese and Mexican descent can be sitting together and discussing common issues
The memory of the first day of classes in the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is still vivid in my mind: we were warmly welcomed by its CEO Brian Tolleson, Professor Tanya Washington, Ufuk and Hanane and I could not be more excited looking around the room, filled with all those talented people, with diverse backgrounds and identities, each had sparks of passion in their eyes. I was caught up in the beauty of that moment, that we live in time where people of Ukrainian, American, Polish, Romanian, Bosnian, Danish, German, Greek, Vietnamese and Mexican descent can be sitting together and discussing common issues, I could not wait to hear their stories and share mine, too. First impression of the Fellowship was very sweet and light, but then, after the break, we had our first introduction into what this program is really about — uncovering the ugly truth of the American reality — we toured the exhibition. It started with a hallway where pictures of White and Coloured communities, separate and unequal, were shown on the walls. It was disturbing to learn about what people had to go through while protesting and sit-ins, I got a chance to experience a two-minute simulator of the things they had to undergo and it was almost unbearable. It made me tear up to be reminded of how unreasonably cruel people can be to each other.
But the true experience began the next week, when we got a chance to be in presence of remarkable lecturers, who educated me about some hidden issues in America, such as voter suppression, mass incarceration, criminal injustice, lynching, income immobility, homelessness, high rates of labour and sex trafficking in Atlanta. We’ve met with the amazing Carol Anderson and Roslyn Pope, and had a trip to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Most of those classes contained very sensitive and information and I had to hold someone’s hand or get a hug to be able to cope with it.The reality is very harsh, harsh to the point where you go home and cry yourself to sleep thinking about all those stories of human and civil rights violations. And I could not possibly go cope with any of that without our group of extraordinary Fellows, with whom we went through a lot together: holding each other’s hands in moments of vulnerabilities. There were tears, breakdowns, laughs, adventures, heated political discussions, tension, and friendships. I am so proud to meet and know all those people, touched by their stories and strength, and looking forward to working with many of them in the war against injustice. Each and every one of them has a special place and my heart and I sincerely hope it was not the last time we saw each other.
We went through a lot together: holding each other’s hands in moments of vulnerabilities.
Being a John Lewis fellow is definitely a big honor and a challenge, I never thought I could learn and grow so much in such a short period of time and it makes me emotional having to leave tomorrow, but it does not end here. Even though I am yet to digest all this information and not quite sure what exactly is going to happen next, I have a lot of inspiration and wish to pass on all this knowledge so others can get empowered and inspired too. So far, I plan to organize several lectures on mass incarceration and voter suppression, since those topics have touched me the most. After graduation, I plan to go to a law school and pursue the career of a civil rights attorney. Maybe that’s when I will have a chance to meet up with the Fellows again, since some of them have similar aspirations. Until then, all the woke people who I had a chance to meet, including all the Humanity in Action staff and Fellows, will be the source of my motivation and will live in my memories. Thank you all for this opportunity and I am looking forward to having to work with this network in the future. Love.