Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Waypoints and Journeys: It was bigger than a dream

Written By: David Denton
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Virginia State University
Published: 8/30/2016
Many people look back in time to find the moment of their initial inspiration. Some people have known what they wanted to be for so long they do not even know what originally inspired them. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to make a difference in the world. The idea of meeting people and positively impacting their lives appeared to be spiritually rewarding.

I grew up in one of the worst parts of the Bronx where changing the world was not realistic. As a result of being surrounded by limited resources, I was only given a few options in life. I wanted to prove that no matter how bad one’s environment is or how many times people try to discourage you, with a little hard work, dedication and a dream, anything is possible.

During high school I began to volunteer in under served communities. These same communities reminded me of home because they were full of my first memories of public education… struggle and vice, the crippling rapture of social inequality, and the blight of poverty.  Growing up Jamaican-American in the projects reminds me of the blues.  You can trade suicides for homicides, gang violence for police brutality, childhood pregnancy for mental illness, rats for roaches and wet books from leaking ceilings for substitute teachers quitting at lunch hour. I thought that I was impacting the world but as I read the news, I realized these issues were much greater than the issues I experienced at home. During college, I embarked on many career-defining moments. As I studied biology, I developed a love for public health in conjunction with my innate interest in resolving community and global issues that impacted the youth. Despite all of my progress, I was still confused on the where? and the how?
It happened…

In June of 2010, I received an email from my brother in law with the subject line stating "Peace Corps". He introduced me to an excerpt from Machiavelli's, The Prince, written 1513: "[one] should think about the adventure that one can bring to the world. Chapter XXV- Fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions…. (Destiny or fate). Preparation, caution, patience, discipline, It is better to be adventurous than cautious."

At the time, I was stubborn focusing on life at a smaller scale and I didn't see how relevant the content in that email was to my future. A handful of emails later, the content from June 18th was forgotten, a lost thread that lingered. I continued to work on changing the lives around me in hopes that I would fulfill my purpose on this earth. Little did I know that life's circles would bring me back to that email years later.

After graduating college, I landed a job in Atlanta, GA as a case manager promoting public health education, psychoeducation, substance abuse awareness and suicide prevention. I loved the work I was doing but the idea of wanting to change the world was still on my mind. As time passed, I was fortunate to travel to Brazil as a Global Leader Fellow. There, I connected communities and provided access to transformative learning experiences for high school students by linking them to resources within the United States. I knew I was coming closer to achieving my life-long dream. It was at that moment when so much of what I had been told for years, and what I knew to be true, actually clicked. I remembered that email my brother in law sent me. I finally applied and was accepted to serve in the Peace Corps in Fiji.

Continuing the process..

After receiving my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in the health and youth development sectors, I decided to be as proactive as possible. I immersed myself into learning more about global issues. I began reading articles and researching different seminars to obtain more knowledge about the impact of these issues. During my search, I stumbled upon a yearly annual Global Health Summit hosted by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta. This year’s summit was focused on health and refugees, which I found to be relevant and impactful because 2015 had the highest number of refugees and displaced people throughout the world.

I wanted to continue to enhance my understanding of critical world issues. After discussing my background with the program manager, she did more than just invite me to the summit, she provided me with an opportunity to intern during the summer. This couldn't have come at a better time. My strategy was to remain open minded and as a result I found interest in more than just public health issues.  I realized that that these issues were influenced by politics and policies. The program exposed me to ambassadors, policy advisers, and other experts in this space.

Working with an ambassador who was full of life, humble group leaders and other dedicated interns influenced my adventure at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta to be extraordinary. We were a very unique and diverse bunch. I met some great people during this experience, learned a ton, and spent the majority of my time engaging with others in a light-hearted and humorous manner. There were never any dull moments during my internship. I learned more about myself, and the values of our global community than I could have ever imagined. Overall, this experience gave me a new perspective on cultural differences, beautiful, gratifying memories and newfound friends.

Finally, I understood why spreading awareness was important. While working as a case manager I went door to door and helped under privileged kids and adults understand more about the things that impacted their neighborhoods, schools and families. It was very personal for me because of my upbringing. By interning at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta I became more aware of global issues. I learned about the impacts of development aid, global health issues like Zika and refugees, trans pacific partnerships, and globalized sports to name a few. The internship reminded me of when I was in high school; I realized that there were issues far greater than the ones I experienced in my housing projects. I realized that global and domestic issues go hand in hand. As Nelson Mandela stated "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  As I travel to Fiji this August I will keep all of these experiences in mind and spread awareness on why it is important to inspire our youth to be the global citizens and international leaders of tomorrow.

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