On the morning of Thursday, July 21, 2011, I was excitedly glued to my computer attempting to enroll in fall classes, the first being my Con-Ed site. The Contextual Education program is largely what made Candler stand out for me. I loved the concept of learning experientially and being involved and connected to the Atlanta community through Emory, but outside of it.
Initially, when I was researching sites, my heart felt lead to the Genesis shelter, which serves homeless families with infants and young children. Most of my life has been spent working with and for children and youth. As a teenager, I taught Sunday school in the non-denominational church that I grew up in. I also fulfilled my high school’s 300 hour community service requirement assisting at daycare center. In college, I interned in the communications department of the Children’s Defense Fund. After college, I trained to become a youth facilitator, interned for a multicultural children’s book publishing company and eventually became a founding teacher of a charter school for teen moms and their babies. In last role at Reading Is Fundamental, which I recently left to pursue my studies at Candler, I helped launch programs to provide free books for children all over the country.
Nonetheless, I thought Emory Hospital; with its focus on pastoral counseling would be a more practical choice. My tentative career goal has been to counsel individuals and families within churches and other non-profit agencies. But my heart (and fate maybe…) ended up winning out, when I saw the blue box indicating that the hospital site was full. Honestly, the more I think of it, I couldn’t be more excited about the outcome.
In a sense, going to Genesis feels like a natural progression. Once at RIF, my department was charged to develop strategies to better service specific populations, including homeless children. To gather information, I called a number of homeless shelters and explained what RIF did and asked how we could best work with them, based on their needs. Overwhelmingly, the intake process was mentioned. At some shelters, the duration of intake can span from a few hours to a few days. This can be particularly difficult for parents with young children. We reasoned that the kids may need something to keep them occupied, which is where the books could come in. Ultimately, my team and I envisioned putting bookshelves in the shelters filled with books for the children to select from, including soft books and board books for infants and toddlers.
With the budget crisis the RIF is currently facing as a result of being cut from the federal budget, our ideas never made it beyond the dream stage. They did spark an interest in me that I look forward to exploring in the coming months.
I believe that so many of my interests will be engaged during my time at Candler. Much of my decision to attend seminary began several years ago with my work as a volunteer rape crisis counselor. My desire to get re-involved in advocacy work led me to checking out what resources Emory had for survivors of sexual assault. Tomorrow, I have a call scheduled with Lauren Bernstein, the Coordinator of Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Education and Response, at Emory’s Student Health and Counseling Services office. I was also thrilled to learn that Dr. Pamela Scully, is a Professor of Women’s Studies and African Studies in Emory’s Women’s Studies department. I became aware of Dr. Scully through my involvement with The Saartjie Project, a theatre ensemble I have been performing and writing with since 2008. Dr. Scully wrote a book about our muse, Saartjie Baartman, a 19th century South African woman who was paraded around Europe to display her voluptuous body, and lend supposed evidence to racist theories of the wanton sexuality of black women. Dr. Scully has been to our shows and we have read and recommended her book
Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography, which she co-authored with Clifton Crais. Unfortunately, I never got an opportunity to connect with her, beyond a recent email to which she promptly replied. I look forward to meeting her when I get to campus.
Beyond that, I am slowly packing my apartment and preparing to relocate from DC to Atlanta on the first week of August. On Friday, I bought my one way plane ticket and bade my colleagues farewell. Being a regular contributor on the “admitted students” Facebook page, I am definitely looking forward to meeting my classmates and the rest of the Candler community. Every day the reality of this endeavor becomes more and more apparent. Last week, I passed a church sign that read, “Let every ending be a new beginning”. I am embracing this new beginning and excited to see how it all unfolds.
Nia will begin her MDiv at Candler this fall. She has a degree in journalism from Howard University and currently lives in Washington, DC.