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Present and Represent

July 15, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

"We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own." ~Cesar Chavez
"I'm a reflection of the community." ~Tupac Shakur

I am experiencing a flurry of emotions from excited, ready to get it over with, to incredibly anxious because I give my very first Mellon presentation NEXT WEEK. Countless hours of sleep have fallen by the wayside as I try to wrap up nearly two months of hard researching work into a twenty-minute talk. For the first time in a long time, I get to be at the center of work that means a great deal to me and share all of my new knowledge with a room full of people who support me and my work. That is a really dope opportunity that I, of course, want to make the most of. Yet it is startlingly overwhelming.

Today, my mentor (Professor Clovis White) and I had our usual check in meeting about my progress and it was very reassuring and comforting for me. Some kind of magical moment happened where it finally clicked for me that he (and countless others) are really in my corner to help me to do the best that I can. Consistently drawing on the love of my community of folks has been integral in helping me to calm my anxiety while I wrap up researching. I came to him stressed, anxious and still trying to sort last-minute things out, and since he knows me all too well, he told me to chill. To take a deep breath and give myself more credit than I have been. To believe that I got this (not because he said so) but because I really do have this under control. I am spoiled to have my academic advisor, professor and research mentor all be the same person who knows me well enough to sprinkle magic mentor dust to get me back on track when need be.

Between the Africana Studies and Sociology departments, I have a community that I value deeply. I also represent them to the fullest. My work is a reflection of my ties to those communities (and my own). My conversations are a function of my learning inside and outside of the classroom. My purpose on this campus is definitely influenced by the kind of mentorship I receive from those faculty closest to me. However, I would be remiss to not mention the ways that I try to build up my community since it is bigger than just feeling and reciprocating love and support.

Hands-down the best part about this summer is living with someone who knows me well because we have a prior relationship that makes it easier for us to get along and be supportive of the major moves we each try to make. In turn, it also makes both of us more willing to motivate and encourage others in our community. I live with someone who will research graduate programs with me, learn how to cook alongside me, share my frustrations and confusions, laugh at my jokes and sociologically analyze our favorite crime shows like Criminal Minds and Law and Order: SVU. It is truly amazing to have someone hold me down like that and motivate me not only throughout the summer but the year as well. Talk about love and building up the communities you come from.

Finally, my thoughts of community all come full circle to my actual home. I think of my city of Chicago, my family, my neighborhood, my friends and loved ones there--the reasons why I am here in Oberlin. I love everything about home--the good, the bad, the uncertain and the definite--because it makes me who I am. I always have love there and my folks show it constantly. I carry that spirit with me on this campus and in my daily life so it is important for me to both present that mentality and represent it well. What does that mean for my presentation, though? I am glad you asked.

It means that I give a presentation that is real. One that is close to me, shares my experiences and lets my audience into a little piece of my world for twenty minutes. My presentation has to be comfortable for me because I am making a home within myself as a presenter for folks to come sit at my table to listen to my stories for a bit. I cannot be nervous in doing that; I do it everyday. So I have nothing to be worried about next week when I deliver this presentation. I guess it just took writing it out to believe it again. Well, I will leave you with something I should have shared much earlier... an article about my Mellon research by the Posse Foundation! These are two communities that I belong to and encapsulates well how to go about presenting and representing where I come from.

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