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I Got Lost & Found Myself at the White House!

I Got Lost & Found Myself at the White House!

Sydney Zimelis is a participant in the Religious Action Center's
Machon Kaplan summer program for college students. She is a student at the University of Michigan and an intern at the NAACP.

When sitting in the classroom at the RAC for the first time on Monday morning, I learned that Kivie Kaplan, the last white and Jewish president of the NAACP, owned the beautiful house-like building before donating it to the RAC. Also, I learned that members of the Jewish and Black communities, among many other civil rights advocates, drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the RAC's conference room. Such history right above my head, I had a hard time containing myself! I smiled, knowing that shortly after this first class, I would be sitting at the NAACP-Washington Bureau learning more about the organization I had read about in many other classrooms throughout my academic career. There was and still is a deep and tangled connection between the Black and Jewish communities that I cannot wait to further investigate from a firsthand perspective in addition to the many books I have read. This is going to be one incredible summer.

As soon as I walked into the NAACP Washington Bureau, the several photographs of famous civil rights activists such as Julian Bond, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock 9, and W.E.B. Dubois among many others memorized me. I kept getting up from my assigned desk to sneak a peak at all of these incredible figures. I saw a poster that read, "You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea" said by Medgar Evers, another civil rights activist. Not only did this quote bring images of Martin Luther King Jr. giving his "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, but also this quote stuck with me as a phrase that rings true to many communities who have encountered persecution. This type of persecution could result in killing an individual(s) for his or her beliefs and/or stances--either literally or through silencing methodologies (and not physical death). Even if death entails, his or her ideas have the capability to exist in a society that will never be able to rid of the thoughts promoted prior to being silenced in whatever form. I am thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to attend the NAACP centennial conference in New York City this July celebrating the 100th anniversary of an organization that stands for a just and compassionate society -- definitely a Jewish (shalom rav-esque) concept -- where many black political figures, including President Barack Obama, will gather to discuss the successes and history of the NAACP as well as what holds for the future of the organization. Be sure to follow it online!

On a lighter note, during the first week of my internship, I got lost so many times I can't even begin to count. Me getting lost isn't surprising to friends as they know I have an incredibly terrible sense of direction. I went in many circles (in addition to the arrondesmont-like circles D.C. possesses) and took the "long way" to get somewhere. It did enable me to do some incredible sightseeing into what I would like to think of as the "D.C. that the tourist normally wouldn't see" like meandering through residential areas, and sitting at cool independent coffee shops amongst other adventures. But one day, on my way to interning at the NAACP, I thought I would try a different route to spice things up. All of a sudden, on my right I saw cadillacs with tinted windows and gates with heavy security only to look up and realize I was at the White House. It is truly great getting lost and ending up in places that mean so much to our country. The magnificence of Washington D.C. is that the places you go and see are the actual locations learned about either via lecture or textbook (i.e refer to Jefferson's library on display at the Library of Congress--a personal favorite D.C. spot--mentioned in a previous post). The material literally comes alive in the infrastructures as well as people's purpose for working here at the many headquarters of non-profits and organizations that shape the way our country thinks. I have never felt more proud to be a part of this country in my entire life.

Published: 6/23/2009

Categories: Social Justice, Uncategorized
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