Subscribe to Matsui Center Blogs feed Matsui Center Blogs
the official blog of the Robert T. Matsui Center at UC Berkeley
Updated: 48 min 23 sec ago

Unchartered Territory

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:00pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Elizabeth Householder

As I write this, it is now my second official snow day. As a California native who never really ventured too far from home, I must admit this is still all amazingly surprising and surreal, to say the least. The first time I saw snow was last week. I was so shocked I halted in my tracks in awe to watch the first little snowflakes fall from the sky. Little did I know those cute little snow flakes would turn into a blizzard that would trap us all inside for four days, but hey, I guess you should be careful what you wish for!

Walking in the streets after the blizzard finally ended… SO MUCH SNOW!

Besides the natural elements and the surprises they brought, D.C. in general is all so new to me. I will be frank with you, as I boarded my plane at SFO Airport I didn’t know what to expect. The fear of the unknown caused me to cry as the plane began to take off. I have never been this far away from my hometown, let alone for this long. That fear dissipated into reality when I saw the White House for the first time on my walk to Whole Foods a few hours after my arrival. The White House is casually located a few blocks away from the center, and you have a clear view of it when you walk past 16th street. My fear slipped away into pride and understanding that I was now in an extremely historic place, and I knew my life was going to be forever changed from this experience.

Snow angels in a blizzard

 

In the short three weeks I have been here, there have been a lot of ups and downs. Being in such a new environment, I guess that is to be expected. I lost my California ID the first week, and boy was it a hassle to get a new one (don’t worry though, the issue was quickly resolved thanks to some amazing Residential Advisers in the center). My internship at the Department of Education was postponed because of the aforementioned ID issue. I definitely did not bring enough socks and I must say Target brand snow “boots” are definitely not up for this kind of snow. But with each of these experiences has come a lesson of perseverance and resourcefulness (i.e. opening a wine bottle with a potato peeler). And as I sit here and reflect, I cannot help but smile at everything that has happened, the good, the bad, and the snowy.

First day of snow in front of the Department of the Treasury (shout out to Robert Reich!)

When applying to the UCDC program I had anticipated the bulk of what I would learn here would have to do with government and politics at the federal level. Now that I am three weeks in I realize this program is so much more than that. Having worked in state politics before, I imagined the federal level of politics to be some grandiose machine of wide sweeping power and influence. While I do feel and see that power at times, working in the Department of Education has made me realize the importance of state politics, and the reality of what can be done on a federal level (which sometimes isn’t very much). It has reasserted my belief and passion for California politics, and is preparing me for a future career as a public servant in my home state. Not only that, but this program has given me a sense of appreciation for the diversity of experiences of the folks who populate this program. UCDC isn’t about just going to your internship, taking classes, and seeing monuments. It’s about the personal connections you make with people from all over the UC system as well as other universities across the country. It’s about cuddling up for warmth as you walk to the metro, exploring history (such as St. Michaels cathedral) in ways you never would have imagined before, and making pancakes and cookies for breakfast. It’s about late night trips to CVS and impromptu seventies dance parties in your neighbor’s apartment. And ultimately, for me personally, it’s about going out of your comfort zone and accepting that new people, places, and experiences do not mean sacrificing who you once were as a Bayarian (“Bayarian”=someone from the Bay Area). Rather this new place with all its wonder and glory simply adds to your being in a reaffirming and meaningful way that allows you to grow as a person.

My apartment mates and me in front of the White House on the first day of snow

Elizabeth Householder is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in American Studies. She is currently interning for the U.S. Department of Education as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


Washington DC: Reconnecting with a Familiar Space

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:47am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Gurchit Chatha

In 2014, after having just transferred to Cal, I decided I’d take it upon myself to independently apply for an internship in Washington, D.C. and begin dabbling in the political world. Though I had a stellar experience interning for Congressman Mike Honda, because I was on my own, I was forced to rely on personal finances and limited funding from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) to manage the hefty costs associated with living in D.C. In retrospect, boy was that a huge mistake! DC’s housing costs climb every year, eating out averages around $15-20 per meal, and keeping up with the city’s chic fashion trends is no poor man’s task.

A couple of friends and I got our Library of Congress Researcher cards!

Fast-forward two years, and here I am again embarking on another journey in DC, this time interning at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management as part of the Spring 2016 UCDC class. Thankfully, however, with lessons learned from the past come greater prospects for the future: I remain grateful to UC Berkeley and generous donors like the ones that make the Matsui Center Fellowships possible for helping me finance my stay in D.C. It’s no understatement that financial stability has great effects on one’s mental health, and thus, being able to perceive these next few months through the lens of a worry-free college student is a privilege in it of itself.

The Lincoln Memorial on my first day in DC.

So, how exactly has my time fared thus far? Assuming one is able to hold it down financially for the long run, DC is a remarkably captivating and awe-inspiring city. Starting with my internship, I’ve learned that every ounce of work produced in this town has potential to act as a multiplier for change around the country. Having been at Brookings for only two weeks, the team at the Center for Effective Public Management is already having me research democratic deficiencies in US politics, flaws in campaign polling, and foreign policy proposals in this year’s Presidential hopeful speeches. Furthermore, looking two weeks ahead, a fellow Cal Bear and I will be in charge of collecting data on the upcoming Congressional elections as part of the Center’s “Primaries Project.” Put shortly, the magnitude of being in DC is motivating and refreshing. I feel as if nearly every scholarly article to which I contribute will have profound effect on government practices. As the internship continues to unfold, I’m excited to see what growth and learning lies ahead.

Spoken word at Busboys and Poet’s Open Mic Night.

Celebrating the Brookings Institution’s Centennial.

Growing professionally is cool ‘n all, but what really matters with short-term academic experiences is the time one is able to spend immersed in local culture. Having spent my fair share of years at Berkeley, I’m all about them positive, laid-back vibes. Assuming you’re not stuck working after hours on a time-sensitive political issue, when the clock hits 5, D.C. locals are out and about partaking in a wide array of shenanigans. So far, I’ve battled the cold and biked through the National Mall, downed delicious chili from DC’s very own Ben’s Chili Bowl, read books on a Sunday morning at Kramer’s Bookstore and Café, jammed to Open Mic Night at Busboys and Poets, and shared a laugh with students at George Washington University’s Improv Comedy Club.  Just a few days ago, I also had the unique opportunity to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the nation’s capital. I visited the MLK Memorial, learned about African-American History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and conversed with my peers about racial prejudices and systems of racism that have yet to be dismantled. From kickbacks to passionate politics, DC has it all.

A quick shot I took of the the MLK Memorial on MLK Day.

Though these past two weeks have been packed with fun and growth, I feel as if they have already flown by. Keeping time’s fleeting nature in mind, I look forward to the next three months of not only building professional skills, but more importantly, bonds and memories to last me beyond the Spring 2016 semester.

Gurchit Chatha is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science. He is currently interning for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


Lived Experience as a Source of Knowledge

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 11:27am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

Founded by Dr. Donald Roden of Rutgers University – New Brunswick, the MountainviewProgram (MVP) initially started as a volunteer GED tutoring group for incarcerated youth at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, New Jersey. In 2013 the MVP program was incorporated into a consortium of higher education institutions known as the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ – STEP). The MVP then transitioned into the reentry component within NJ – STEP’s prison to higher education pipeline and is housed at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University – Newark.

Following the formalization of NJ-STEP, the Vera Institute of Justice selected them as part of a five-year national initiative that provides incentive funding and technical assistance to three selected states to participate in the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. The consortium is a membership of community colleges and public and private universities that collaborates with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and State Parole Board by providing post-secondary courses to incarcerated students in seven state correctional facilities and formerly incarcerated students in various New Jersey community colleges and the Rutgers University.

Jeff Melillo, NJ-STEP MVP Senior Program Coordinator, and current student, Boris Franklyn,
NJ-STEP MVP, who is receiving his BA in Social Work from Rutgers.

One of the unique components of NJ-STEP is that they hire former students of the program as academic counselors to assist incarcerated students in creating an academic plan towards an associate’s degree. The counselors along with the faculty who teach on site create a space within the prison where students can develop their social and navigational capital in regards to higher education. Counselors provide individual support to incarcerated students who seek to pursue higher education upon reentry. As the reentry component within NJ-STEP, the MVP at Rutgers University provides formerly incarcerated students with individual support, academic counseling and guidance as students try to balance the difficulties of re-entering society while pursuing a degree at Rutgers University.

My role as the Completion Counselor primarily involves working with students who have been recently released or are in community college. I also participated in the Topics in Criminal Justice: Mountainview Program Seminar facilitated by Chris Agans the director of the MVP. The seminar was specifically designed for a cohort of first-year students at Rutgers University – Newark & New Brunswick. The objective of the course was to provide students with general understanding of the resources available at Rutgers University, to help them develop an academic plan to succeed and understand the culture of higher education. The course incorporates into the seminar current publications, research, best practices and the student’s personal experience with the purpose of getting students to think about the knowledge they bring to the classroom, what skills they need to develop, and what resources they need to achieve their goals. The assigned readings addressed different theoretical approaches that help students succeed at an institution of higher learning; such as, Rutgers University.

(from left to right) Amarilis Diamond-Rodriguez, BA, NJ – STEP Counselor, MVP Alum; Ivelisse Gilestra, NJ-STEP, MVP, RU-N, Social Work & Women’s Studies, BA Fall 2016; Adham El-sherbeini, NJ – STEP, MVP, RU-NB Mechanical Engineering, BS Spring 2016

Since 2008 the MVP has assisted 110 students in admission into Rutgers University, 25 students have graduated with their Bachelor’s degree and 5 students have received their Master’s degree. Currently there are 37 formerly incarcerated students enrolled at Rutgers University – New Brunswick and 12 students are enrolled at Rutgers University – Newark. Whether it’s a prison education or an academic re-entry program these spaces must provide the resources for the development of their student’s social and navigational capital. Developing this capital is crucial to the success of formerly incarcerated student’s, as it increases exponentially the chances of formerly incarcerated student’s moving into higher education and reduces the recidivism rates.

L-R: my mentor Christopher J. Agans, NJ-STEP, MVP, Director and my colleague
Regina Diamond-Rodriguez, LSW, MSW, NJ-STEP, MVP Program Coordinator, MVP, Alumna

 

With the right resources provided, higher education can help formerly incarcerated people in many ways. Formerly incarcerated people face many unique challenges when attempting to access higher educational opportunities. The weekly seminars create a structural response to these challenges. By allowing some mitigation of the obstacles, both real and psychological, formerly incarcerated students are granted the opportunity to engage with the material presented in the classroom, as well as incorporate their lived experience into the seminar. The seminar gives formerly incarcerated students the social and navigational capital to succeed in higher education, while at the same time helping them to develop a positive sense of identity in a society that rejects and stigmatizes their lived experience and does not view them as a source of knowledge.

Danny Murillo is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving his BA in Ethnic Studies. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University.


Amid Anxiety, Human Rights Should be a Priority

Fri, 12/18/2015 - 9:19am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

December in midtown Manhattan brings tourists, holiday lights, and time with friends and family. The year’s final month also celebrates two important global human rights events: The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, and Human Rights Day on December 10.

Recent events make us realize how important it is to include planning to meet the needs of  people with disabilities in emergency and conflict situations. And human rights as a concept has taken on particular meaning and urgency in the last few weeks.

In recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Human Rights Watch issued a  news release on people with disabilities in conflict situations. Governments, donors, and aid agencies are overwhelmed with many competing priorities during emergencies. Yet it is  essential to make sure that the needs and concerns of people with disabilities are not lost in the shuffle

Between January and November, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 people with disabilities, along with their families, and assessed their needs during the current conflicts in Yemen and the Central African Republic, as well as the European refugee crisis.

More than one billion people worldwide, or about 15 percent of the global population, have disabilities. According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, 6.7 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution and other human rights violations, conflict, and generalized violence. Children with disabilities in particular are at risk of abandonment and violence during emergency situations, and their unique needs are often not taken into account in aid efforts.

The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016 will be a prime opportunity to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities are heard in this debate. Governments and United Nations agencies should develop and endorse global standards and guidelines on disability inclusion in humanitarian action, Human Rights Watch said, together with CBM,Handicap International, International Disability Alliance, Women’s Refugee Commission, and other partners. The standards and guidelines should address coordination, implementation, monitoring and financing, and further support of inclusive practices in all aid programs and efforts.

In the aftermath of deadly attacks in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, a knee-jerk and increasingly troubling reaction to bar resettlement of refugees by 30 state governors in the United States received enough momentum for a Resolution to pass the House of Representatives calling for cumbersome background checks on refugees .

Just a few days later, in the wake of a mass shooting in California, bombastic rhetoric to ban all Muslims from entering the Untied States was touted as a serious policy proposal. Despite the obvious discriminatory message, the simple fact this type of language was uttered in the race for national office should give us all pause. Bowing to our fears and giving in to our worst impulses does not honor the America I know, the land in which millions of people aspire to live. It harkens back to the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act. To Japanese internment. To the use of torture in a “War on Terror.”

We do have every right to be angry, and frustrated, and gut-wrenchingly heartbroken over the recent violence around the world. We do not have the right to discriminate, to incite violence, to shatter fundamental human rights in a vague assertion of national security prerogatives. Understanding and embracing the core idea behind human rights—that each of us retains inalienable rights and deserves to live on equal footing because of our common humanity—is a goal we can all work toward together this holiday season.

Paras Shah is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. While at Cal he studied History and Political Science. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Human Rights Watch in New York City.


Becoming More Intentional

Wed, 12/16/2015 - 4:21pm

Posted by Gardner Fellow Danielle Puretz

On December 6, 2014 I wrote myself a letter as a closing exercise for the Global Poverty and Practice capstone course. I remember our discussion on the day we received the assignment: very few of the students in the class knew what they would be doing upon graduation, and among those that did, all were applying to grad school. I remember the professor passing out the sheets of blue paper, the black and yellow sketch of a tree I’d included with my letter and the smugness I felt at my idea to enclose a twenty dollar bill as a reminder from my past to present self that we have cause to celebrate.

In December of last year I did not know that come fall, I would be embarking on the John Gardner Fellowship, I did not know where I would be or what I would be doing and my biggest fear was that I would be “tired and stuck in a lease I can’t afford.” But beyond the evidence of chaos and confusion that was my life at the time, I asked myself some crucial questions, shared some personal insights and posed some exciting challenges. I dared myself to do things that scare me, shared the hope that I would be making art and writing for the sake of it, reminded myself to read and exercise my mind, wrote that “creative processes are opportunities for [us] to listen to [ourselves]” and incited a call to action telling myself to cultivate insatiability, never stop seeking inspiration, listening, learning and experimenting.

As I finished reading this letter, I thought to myself if only I could receive one of these letters every year. Charged from my own plight, I immediately turned this thought around on myself—one of the greatest goals and gifts of the John Gardner Fellowship is the emphasis on practicing reflection and intentional learning. So instead of lamenting the irregularity of this letter, I went back to my ‘Learning Plan’, a requirement of the fellowship and way for me to keep myself accountable to this notion of intentional learning.

We’re about a third of the way through the fellowship, so although this is the third time I’m revisiting my learning plan, I think it’s still far from finished (and I look forward to sharing its progress!). While I hold in high esteem the idea of intentional learning, in practice, it still doesn’t come easily. I do have a predisposition towards reflection, but without the tide of the fellowship, I’m not sure how readily or at what frequency I would be revisiting my goals. My learning plan is built around a path of projects I want to work on and skills I aim to attain, but I think I succumbed a bit too much to vagueness. Admittedly, ‘Reflect weekly’ lacks tangibility. Intrinsic motivation is a beautiful yet fleeting thing, so I asked myself what I can do to be more accountable to myself and these ambitions. I know the answer lies in relationships and making that accountability extend beyond myself, so I talked about my plan with people in my life whom I admire, including my fellow Gardner Fellows. One of my points in my Day to Day goals, to continually journal and reflect received some apt criticism. My vagueness must have come from some sort of fear of commitment, but after being encouraged to keep it recursive I adjusted the point—to commit to the goal one way, and if it doesn’t work, readjust. It now reads:

Journal & Reflect
Ask weekly:
What did I learn?
What did I learn within theater?
What did I learn without theater?
What haven’t I had exposure to?
What did I learn about myself?
and, How?

I worked the UC Berkeley departmental graduations every year as a part of my job with Cal Performances. Many of the graduation speeches included moments of students reminiscing about nights spent with peers discussing hopes and dreams. I know well the power of those spaces among friends, filled with the sharing of vulnerability and encouragement. I feel very lucky to have gotten so close to the fellows in my cohort, and to have friendships in my life where we challenge, support, and push one another to be accountable for the work we do and who we want to be. So now that I’ve grounded myself in a place specificity, I hope to be able to savor the insights as they find me.

Danielle Puretz is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving her BA in both Theater and Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Poetic Theater Productions.


Post-Secondary Education is Critical for the Formerly Incarcerated

Tue, 12/15/2015 - 10:49am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

It’s early Tuesday morning and I am on a flight to Detroit-Metro Airport. Due to weather conditions the flight is being delayed. As the plane sits on the runway at Newark Liberty International Airport I am second guessing my participation in this trip. I am accompanying my colleagues Rebecca Silber and Sean Addie to Michigan to meet with our partners and students of the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project. Thirty minutes have passed and the plane is still grounded. I am beginning to feel anxious. My anxiety is compounded as I think about the two prisons I will be entering; Parnall Correctional Facility (SMT) and Macomb Correctional Facility (MRF). This is my first time entering a prison facility since my release in 2010. I am concerned for my well-being, and I understand that my anxiety is linked to the trauma of incarceration.

Channeling the Spirit of Detroit, with my colleague Rebecca Silber.

Although I’ve been out of prison for six years, I continue to suffer from the lingering effects of extreme sensory deprivation. As I am sitting on the plane processing this trip, I am aware that going into prison can trigger those lingering effects from my past life. What helps me cope with my anxiety is the ability to put things into context. I understand that my role as the Program Analyst in the Pathways Project is giving me access to enter these facilities. Knowing in advance who I would be meeting with made the process less stressful. Talking with a group of incarcerated students was easier to process in comparison to talking to people in solitary confinement.

Parnall Correctional Facility

When we arrived at Detroit-Metro Airport we had to wait nearly two hours for our rental car, so we decide to cancel our first meeting with the Pathways students at MRF. The following morning we arrived at SMT and entered into the facility through the main office. After signing in and walking through the metal detector we were escorted to a dorm used to house Pathways students. We were then escorted to a minimum security cell block that reminded me of the TV show Prison Break. Our last stop was the educational facility, where we met with a group of Pathways students. During this meeting I wanted to be attentive and listen to the students express their concerns regarding re-entry and access to resources upon their release. There was a collective understanding among the students that their participation in the Pathways Project was a positive and transformative experience. Some students were interested in working upon their release and others were interested in pursuing their education. There was also concerns about access to employment, housing, and financial aid. As we neared the end of our conversation, I asked the facilitator to allow me a few minutes to share with them the role higher education had in my re-entry.

The Fist, monument dedicated to boxing legend Joe Louis. Detroit. MI.

I didn’t write anything in advance and I was nervous trying to figure out what to say. I wanted to address their concerns and questions while at the same time sharing with them my experience and the opportunities that higher education has given me. I opened the conversation by telling them I was a formerly incarcerated person and, similar to them, I participated in a post-secondary education program while in solitary confinement. I described how the combination of hard work and available resources allowed me to transition from a post-secondary correspondence course in prison to a Bachelors of Arts degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. I wanted them to understand that a post-secondary education opens doors that are not easily accessible to formerly incarcerated people. I shared how my transition through higher education has allowed me to travel to different states to advocate for incarcerated people, to study at the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and to work at the Vera Institute of Justice and NJ-STEP / Mountainview Program.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to talk to them about the correlation between recidivism and education, and how people with criminal records who have higher education levels are less likely to be re-incarcerated and more likely to achieve economic stability. The access to a post-secondary education for incarcerated people is critical to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The role of post-secondary education in the re-entry process gives formerly incarcerated people the skills and the tools to prepare for the institutional barriers they will confront following their release.

Danny Murillo is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving his BA in Ethnic Studies. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University.


Goodbye for Now, DC

Tue, 12/15/2015 - 9:27am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Lucy Song

I spent my last night in DC eating Ethiopian food with my intern friends, and the weather was mild enough for my friend and I to take a stroll around Embassy Row, the Potomac River, and Georgetown. Between saying goodbyes to friends, working on term papers, and wrapping up my internship, it wasn’t until my last day in DC when I realized how much I would miss being able to walk around the National Mall everyday, live a few blocks away from the White House, stop by the numerous Smithsonian museums at a moment’s notice, and immerse myself in the DC atmosphere.

Through interning for fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, I learned just how many intricate dimensions go into being an academic and producing a high-caliber book. As my scholars’ books pertain to international relations, they often have to analyze research materials in different languages. In addition to synthesizing and having an in-depth understanding of all the pre-existing literature on their topics, they have to synthesize their research materials to formulate a compelling and original thesis that adds a new layer of understanding to the topic. Finally, they have to present their work in a way that would captivate the academic audience as well as policymakers. Therefore, my day-to-day work in the past four months have consisted of accompanying my scholars to interviews and conferences, translating research materials, and writing research memos. I loved the type of work I did at the Wilson Center, and this internship further solidified my interest to work for a think tank in the future and apply for graduate studies in history or political science.

While I think there was a lot of pressure for students to decide on their career and academic paths upon the completion of the UCDC program, one of the most important takeaways for me this semester is to not worry about having to plan my life out down to the smallest details. When I informally interviewed professionals in the think tank world and other industries, it seemed like all of them got to this point in their careers not through exquisite planning but rather more through seizing spontaneous and promising opportunities—flexibility to change is what all of them had in common. Therefore, my new goal when I get back to Berkeley is to live more in the moment, stress less, work hard, and keep an active eye out for interesting opportunities in my areas of interest.

Finally, as cliché as it sounds, it is the people that make a place so memorable. And during my short time in DC, I am very thankful to have worked directly with two fellows at the Wilson Center who are amazing mentors. I also met great friends through my internship and UCDC. My professors this semester have made my experience here academically stimulating, and my UCDC advisor was extremely helpful for both career and academic inquires. If it weren’t for the support I had and relationships I’ve built with these people, my time in DC would not have been half as special!

Washington Monument in the setting sun

Well, this is the end of my UCDC journey. But this isn’t farewell to this amazing city. I’m sure I will return to DC for sightseeing or another internship in the near future, and the memories I’ve built here will last me a lifetime.

Lucy Song is a junior at UC Berkeley, studying history and public policy. She is currently interning at the Wilson Center as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


Part 4: This Is Only The Beginning

Wed, 12/02/2015 - 10:15am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Ozi Emeziem

There is something oddly terrifying about becoming a ‘grown up.’

As a kid, I aspired to it.
It is access to an unknown world and it is enticing.
With each year, I suddenly get closer.
My responsibility expands, my knowledge grows, my dependence shortens.
Yet, excitement soon evolves into fear as I realize that things don’t ‘just happen.’
By college, I diagnose myself with a phobia for change, stagnation, and failure.

D.C. is my chance.
There is a magic about the city, a flair that words cannot justly describe.
When walking the streets, purpose becomes evident – you are in a place of wonders.
A friend describes it as a movie set, it’s not real, and is meant to serve moments rather than be the place where one chooses to settle down…
It has given me the right moments to move forward in my life with a zest for opportunities and action.

I am terrified of adulthood.
But this is not an end, it is merely the beginning

Ozi Emeziem is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying comparative literature and ethnic studies. She is currently interning with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


Perpetual Self-Renewal

Wed, 11/25/2015 - 10:04am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

In the season finale of his recently released Netflix mini-series, Master of None, writer and comedian Aziz Ansari grapples with the tendency to become complacent, what John Gardner characterized as lack of self-renewal. Month three of my Fellowship at Human Rights Watch brings new opportunities to work on disability rights in the context of emergencies and conflicts, but also gives me time to pause and ponder.

Increasingly, I am able to work on assignments with an eye toward what I find exhilarating and frustrating. Desk-based research, something my future promises a great deal of, can at times be isolating and requires that I constantly keep the bigger picture of a project or task in mind. On the other hand, advocacy strategy and writing media articles or press releases allows me to synthesize a narrative from many different sources, while collaborating with internal teams and external partners. As I note these preferences, I also question how my future career will unfold.

The Gardner Fellowship is, both by timing and design, a period of transition. There is an acute knowledge that something else—the unknown, the uncertain—awaits next fall. For myself and other Fellows, this requires a certain degree of foresight. Over a recent happy hour, we discussed various potential avenues: other fellowships, research projects, graduate schools, jobs. For me, the pathways seem to change from week-to-week. Reading Jonathan Mahler’s book The Challenge I envisage a career in legal journalism. Scanning SCOTUSBlog my thoughts turn to a federal clerkship. Watching the plight of refugees rekindles my interest in politics and policy. At this point, listening to the hip-hop inspired soundtrack of Hamilton might well provoke another train of thought.

This is not to say that I find my current work unfulfilling—on the contrary, it only raises new and important questions about how, when, and where to continue public service and human rights advocacy. One critical, if at times overlooked, aspect of the Fellowship is to learn by osmosis, speaking with those who have the careers I admire and learning from their experiences.

With so many possibilities and options, it becomes easy to box yourself in. To succumb to the pressures—externally imposed and internally generated. To pick a single path and stick with it, marching along with resolute determination toward a finite point marked “happiness” or “success” or “fulfillment.”

Yet such single-mindedness begets troubling consequences. How often do we chase happiness, or success, or fulfillment only to move past other opportunities and play it safe rather than dreaming audaciously? What Ansari articulated so well is that ignoring conventional wisdom might pose risks, but failing to take risks is also disingenuous to who we are, and who we might become. As John Gardner observed, “One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.”

I am not sure of what the future holds, and the thought of playing it safe, while tempting, scares me. I do not want to sink into complacency—I want to explore with outstretched arms and an open mind.

As the son of immigrants, I appreciate the tremendous sacrifices my parents and grandparents made to allow me the privilege and freedom to even consider such choices. I also have the support of so many networks: colleagues, professors, supervisors, friends, family, and mentors who continue to invest in me and support my decisions. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to thank all of you—something I do not do often enough.

Paras Shah is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. While at Cal he studied History and Political Science. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Human Rights Watch in New York City.


Which Coast is Your Coast? A Comparison between NorCal and DC

Wed, 11/18/2015 - 2:36pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Lucy Song

In the past few months, a lot of my peers at the UCDC program and myself included have been debating between staying in the Bay Area after graduation, soaking under the glorious year-around sun and eating 99-cent avocados, or moving to the East Coast, experiencing actual seasons and living a more fast-paced life.

Alas, I thought I would write about something different this month. Since I have been in DC for almost three months, that makes me a semi-expert, right? Here is my comparison of DC and NorCal that might offer some suggestions if you ever consider living in DC!

Food

Washington, DC: While DC certainly does not lack good food, it lacks diverse, reasonably-priced, and unpaid-intern-friendly good food compared to Berkeley. Moreover, most restaurants close pretty early, so if you ever get hungry at 2am, depending on where you live in DC, it might be difficult to satisfy your gastronomic cravings. On the bright side, eating after 10pm is not good for your health anyway.

Berkeley/Bay Area: Hands-down wins in this category. Berkeley offers a lot more selections and diversity when it comes to food without absolutely breaking your bank. Moreover, some of the restaurants are open pretty late to suit the college lifestyle, which makes for well-fed and happy students. I’m sure this is the case in other parts of the Bay Area as well. Organic foods and farmers’ markets are also a lot easier to find in the Bay Area.

Weather

Washington, DC: DC is actually not as cold as I had anticipated. While many Californians despise cold weather, it sometimes is nice to experience different seasons and to see snow. You might get used to it. In fact, you might even like the different seasons and find winter to be quite romantic. It makes hot chocolate that much more enjoyable.

Crisp East Coast fall weather and pretty firefly lights in front of the Wilson Center!

Berkeley/Bay Area: Yes, stepping outside without having to worry about putting on thick boots and an extra coat, or taking a nap outdoors in memorial glade is quite a privilege. But sometimes having the relatively same weather all the time is kind of boring. So ultimately, it is a toss-up, depending on your preferences.

 

Throwback to May when my friend and I went to Indian Rock Park after finals week. Nothing beats the view of the Bay Area.

Transportation

Washington, DC: The metro system is pretty extensive and reasonably-priced. But some lines can be really slow, especially on the weekends.

Berkeley/Bay Area: The BART isn’t bad–it can take you from Berkeley to San Francisco in 20 minutes. But it is not as efficient as the DC Metro System–if you miss one train, you have to wait a pretty long time for the next one.

Atmosphere/Aura

Washington, DC: A lot of people describe DC as “transactional.” I think it is a pretty true observation, depending on what kind of internship/work you are involved with. You can feel it on the streets–people are always rushing to places (ie. jaywalking and bumping into you while looking at their phones), always trying to make new connections, always applying to jobs, and always in formal attires. It can get overwhelming at times, but this kind of lifestyle doesn’t really have to become yours if you don’t want it to.

Berkeley/Bay Area: People are definitely more laissez-faire. But that doesn’t mean we are less productive! At Berkeley, I would feel perfectly comfortable to show up to class or in public in sweatpants and a hoodie. I wouldn’t say the same about DC for the most part. The tech and innovation definitely feels stronger in the Bay Area than in DC, which I think contributes to a more creative vibe in the Bay Area.

Music/Arts Scene

Washington, DC: The Smithsonian is here and should keep you preoccupied for a considerable amount of time. Like I mentioned in my previous blog post, music venues like the 9:30 Club and Black Cat are also pretty hip.

Berkeley/Bay Area: Ditto! I feel like the two places are tied in this respect. There are probably more outdoor concerts and shows given how much more outdoor-friendly the Bay Area weather is.

I hope this comparison has been insightful. Maybe I am just easily impressed, but I pretty much fell in love with both coasts.

Til next time,

Lucy

Lucy Song is a junior at UC Berkeley, studying history and public policy. She is currently interning at the Wilson Center as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


From Incarceration to Reentry: The Importance of Higher Education

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 10:27am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

A month after moving to the east coast to begin serving my fellowship, I’ve hit the ground running. In this short time I returned to the University of California, Berkeley to attend the 30th anniversary of the John W. Gardner Fellowship. I was invited to the White House by President and Mrs. Obama to attend the 50th anniversary of the White House Fellows. Lastly, I participated in a round table discussion with New Jersey Senator Corey Booker’s legal team to discuss best practices for reentry and higher education. In my personal experience with reentry I recognize this process is not an individual effort. The intellectual influence of my friends whom I was exposed to during my time in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison played a key role in my reentry process. In collaboration with those around me I overcame my learning insecurities and gained the confidence to participate in the education and reentry programs that were being offered in the SHU.

NJ-STEP & Mountainview Program Alum Amarilis Diamond-Rodriguez greeting President Obama on his visit to Rutgers University-Newark to talk about prison reform policy.

I participated and completed the General Educational Development program (G.E.D). I enrolled in a correspondence course through Coastline Community College, and participated in the Estelle pre-release program. Which offered various certificates; such as, preparation for release, anger management, conflict resolution, and communication skills. Without access to these resources I would not have the tools at my disposal to begin building a bridge towards a successful reentry. Without a doubt the most important tool was higher education, having access to the correspondence courses were instrumental in helping me prepare towards a successful reentry. Continuing my education after my release gave my life structure similar to prison, but without the physical, spiritual, and psychological torture of solitary confinement. It was within this structured environment at Cerritos College and UC Berkeley that I was able to excel and continue to develop my critical thinking skills, which have transformed and changed the direction of my life.

Access to higher education has been instrumental in helping me achieve numerous accomplishments: such as avoiding being a casualty of recidivism, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, co-founding the Underground Scholars Initiative at UC Berkeley, participating on a national community-driven research project as a national policy intern at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and lastly, becoming a John W. Gardner Fellow for Public Service, which opened the doors to work at the Vera Institute of Justice, and the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ – STEP) Mountainview Program (MVP) at Rutgers University – Newark.

NJ-STEP Mountainview students talking to student journalist on the day of President Obama’s prison reform speech at Rutgers University-Newark

As I move forward in life I carry with me the idea that every barrier I overcome is not only a victory for myself, but for all formerly and presently incarcerated people. As a member of All Of Us Or None I am seeking to end the discrimination faced after release and to increase awareness about the human rights of presently incarcerated people. Working at the Vera Institute of Justice I am learning different approaches and best practices to create sustainable and efficient reentry programs and develop strategies that increase access to higher education for formerly and presently incarcerated people. Working at NJ–STEP/MVP gives me the hands-on experience to help transform the lives of people who are directly impacted by incarceration. In addition NJ–STEP/MVP provides me the opportunity to collaborate with formerly incarcerated students who seek to pursue higher education.

Access to education for incarcerated people prepares them to confront and mitigate the barriers they will encounter upon release. Higher education for formerly incarcerated people has proven to reduce the high rates of recidivism. In addition, a postsecondary education increases their chances for employment and access to higher earnings while improving the quality of life for communities that are disproportionately impacted by criminalization and incarceration.

As the completion counselor at NJ–STEP/MVP my role is to advise and help formerly incarcerated students build a bridge that will allow them to reach their goals through higher education. This is a familiar approach, after all it is the model of success that has allowed me to reach my goals after my release. In the following nine months I seek to become a resource to formerly incarcerated students to help them build a bridge that will allow them to reach the goals they have set for themselves through higher education. The Gardner fellowship has given me the opportunity to continue the work I began during my time at Berkeley, and that is to create a space where formerly incarcerated students have the opportunity to empower themselves through higher education and contribute to the discussion that will inform incarceration and reentry policy nationwide.

Danny Murillo is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving his BA in Ethnic Studies. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University.


Part III: Fast-Paced City Life

Wed, 11/04/2015 - 4:18pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Ozi Emeziem

Since I last wrote, my time in D. C. seems more eventful than what I thought it could possibly be. I have been tired often, however, it is actually really enjoyable to stay on my feet! As I said in my last post, my birthday passed and one of my best friends spent the week with me, which was such a nice reminder of home without actually having to go home. We spent a lot of time at the monuments and memorials, but our favorite was our visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It was a special day as it was the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, so when we made it to the memorial, we met plenty of people from around the country who came to celebrate including some of my friends from Berkeley! The MLK memorial is beautiful. My favorite part are the engraved quotes from Dr. King…definitely words that will sit with me. I also got to finally visit the National Zoo as both of us love animals. In fact, we went there three times in her short stay!

One of my favorite quotes at the MLK Jr. Memorial- “It is not enough to say ‘we must not wage war’ it is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it, we must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”

In addition, one of the most memorable moments of my time here happened just two weeks ago when I went to the Democratic Women Forum hosted by the Democratic National Committee! Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be very political, my internship as well as events such a this have made me a lot more aware of the significance of my civic engagement. It is imperative to me that I bring that knowledge back home because our civil right to vote is perhaps one of the greatest rights, one of the most impactful means to have our voice heard in the government. How sad is it that so many Americans, specifically my generation, are becoming so disengaged from the political process. But back to my experience! On the first day of the conference, I had the opportunity to see the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and also the mayor of the district, Muriel Bowser, speak. This was very inspirational for me, as women compose a small percentage of political power in the American government and African-American women an even smaller number.

The next day, I got to see people that I recently could only access via television. They included, Lincoln Chafee, Bernie Sanders, Nina Turner (possibly the best speaker I have ever had the blessing to hear, she should run for President), Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, and the best yet, President Barack Obama. My goal for this whole experience was to see him at least once (I’m going to visit the White House next weekend, and it would be awesome if I could catch a glimpse of him) and here he stood in front of me! To witness President Obama in person was similar to the Drake concert I recently went to- he’s like a rapstar. Granted, he is the first African American President of the United States, making history, but to hear the screams in the room, see the awe in people’s eyes, and the way I too could not control my excitement, speaks volumes to the powerful presence of this man, to the celebrity status of his presidency that I don’t think many would feel towards most political leaders.

Nina Turner and me!

Afterwards, he stepped down from the podium, started walking along the barrier, and shaking hands. I told myself, ‘I’m not going to run up there like a crazy person, hearing him speak was enough for me’…but I couldn’t contain myself and the realization that this may never happen again, pushed me forward. I pushed past people hastily and attempted to catch up with him, but it seemed as if he was floating farther and farther away. I had to change my strategy. So, I ran to the other end of the room where he would finish his parade and I could wait for the moment that he would finally reach us. As he got closer, a big smile spread across my face… here was President Barack Obama, literally standing right in front of my face- I could hug the man if I wanted to, I would not even have to extend my arm if I wanted to touch him because he was actually right in front of me. I screamed, “President Obama, please shake my hand!” and with a big smile across his face, and his presidential demeanor, he held my hand for about five seconds, which were, hands down, the best seconds of my entire time here. I was shaking as I walked away from the stage, looking at my hand in awe, contemplating if I should ever wash it… I had to take a taxi home because I felt like I might pass out from my giddiness. It was a brilliant moment and it is definitely a reassurance to follow your gut- I am so happy that something in me pushed me forward and did not let me settle for just a speech.

President Barack Obama giving his speech!

In addition, the UCDC program has weekly Monday night forums where we get to hear some amazing speakers over dinner. Last week, the forum was hosted at the Supreme Court with Justice Elena Kagan as our guest speaker, which was pretty cool. The Supreme Court is very aesthetically pleasing and as I sat in the row where hopeful candidates for Justice nominations watch cases be argued, I couldn’t help but imagine myself one day serving as a Justice.

Lastly, I just returned from an amazing weekend in New York, which is the place of my dreams. Since I was a child, I have only seen New York in my imagination, a fantastical place where I would be able to make a name for myself, particularly in the modeling world. So, you can only imagine how surreal it was for me to actually be there-unbelievable. What was also really special about the weekend out there was that it was Halloween weekend and some of my good friends from Berkeley met my roommate and me out there to celebrate! We spent the first night getting acquainted with Times Square, which is actually so much brighter than I ever thought it was and also plastered with so many ads. Literally, everywhere was dark in comparison, but I loved it. It is also really true, the City never sleeps. We were out until about five am and people were still walking the streets as if it was 7 pm.

On Halloween day, we went to brunch at this bomb place called Root & Bone (I recommend it if you’re into chicken waffle sandwiches, which sounds crazy, but I swear this was a tasty combination!) and afterwards we went to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. My roommate loves the show 30 Rock and NBC so this was her dream come true- for me, any attraction in New York is joyous. We spent hours in the gift shop and, ultimately, decided to do a tour of the Top of the Rock, where we were able to see the skyline of the city, which was simply an experience I will never forget. For nighttime festivities, my friends and I hit the Manhattan night scene. I can thoroughly say that I enjoyed myself, my company, and my short trip! We had to catch our bus at 8:30 am the next morning, however, I plan to return for Thanksgiving!

The view of the skyline from the Top of the Rock!

Us in front of 30 Rockefeller!

Stay tuned for this last month because I have a lot more planned!

Ozi Emeziem is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying comparative literature and ethnic studies. She is currently interning with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


Brave in the Attempt

Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:37am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

Disgust, then sorrow, and finally anger flashed across my face. I blamed this deluge of sudden emotions on a New York Times article—the white lettered headline, framed against a colorful rug and pair of shackled feet, declared “The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa.” This piece, authored by Benedict Carey, draws upon research by Human Rights Watch to document the use of chains and shackles for people with psychosocial disabilities throughout West Africa.

A deep stigma toward disability coupled with a lack of resources and cultural beliefs around mental health conditions have contributed to the conditions for widespread abuse in West Africa. According to the article, “At last count, Liberia had just one practicing psychiatrist. Niger had three, Togo four and Benin seven. Sierra Leone had none.” To fill the lacuna created by lack of formal medical treatment, religious retreats, known as prayer camps, are seemingly the only options for many families. These camps range from small family-run outlets to large, elaborate operations, often reflecting the personality and vision of the head pastor.

Shackling, often justified by a paternalistic attitude toward people with mental health conditions, has been called a form of torture by United Nations and the World Health Organization has called for an end to such “treatment.” In addition to being locked up in chains for days, months, or even years, people with psychosocial disabilities – either perceived or real – are often subjected to forced treatment and beatings.

© 2012 Shantha Rau Barriga for Human Rights Watch Victoria is a 10-year-old girl with a mental disability who was put in Jesus Divine Temple (Nyakumasi) Prayer Camp, where she was chained to a tree all day and slept on a mat in an open compound. She had no relative present at the camp at the time Human Rights Watch visited. Victoria had a skin infection which had affected her whole body, but she was not given access to medical treatment for this disorder.

Despite the wide range of human rights abuses, oversight of prayer camps is limited and conditions deplorable. In Ghana, where Human Rights Watch surveyed eight camps, nearly all the residents were chained by their ankles to trees in open compounds, where they slept, urinated and defecated, and bathed. Aware of the abuses, the Ghanaian government has pledged to begin monitoring these camps. We now need to see how their words translate into action

© 2015 Zoe Flood for Human RightsWatch A resident sits with his foot chained in the courtyard of the Raywan private center in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa, on July 29, 2015.

Facing such systemic problems, it is easy to become cynical. To intentionally disconnect. After all, I live in New York, work in the Empire State Building, and, ultimately, retain the ability to put distance—imaginative, geographic, and cultural remove—from the devastating situation in West Africa. Acknowledging and internalizing this privilege is something I have struggled with. As a human rights activist, I am told my mandate is to bear witness and advocate for change. Yet that change, while critical and achievable, is glacially slow and takes place at the macro level. Moreover, political, economic, social forces further constrain and encumber the process. One does not have to look far to lose sight of progress.

Over the past two weeks, I have traveled back and forth from New York to California and Washington, D.C. In Berkeley, I attended the John Gardner Fellowship’s 30th Anniversary celebration Gala. It was inspiring to see so many past fellows still dedicated to public service, and also heartening to learn how much this year of mentorship and exploration means to them as the decades pass. I also had the unique pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Robert Orr, who received the Distinguished Mentor Award for his role in championing the careers of four Gardner Fellows. It was an honor to spend some time with Dr. Orr and hear his insights on everything from accessible humanitarian assistance to climate change.

Returning to New York, I recently attended a meeting with Juan E. Méndez, the UN special rapporteur, or expert on torture. He updated us on his recent follow-up visit to Ghana and echoed the need for mental health and prison reform in the country. Hearing from Professor Mendez reminded me of the need for collaboration and coordination among various human rights oriented organizations.

After the brief New York stop, I was off to Washington, D.C. Returning to the capital, where I spent a summer interning as an undergrad and where many of my close friends now live, felt like coming home. I had the honor of speaking at the Cal in the Capital 50th Anniversary celebration event, which highlighted the transformative experiences this program has created for generations of Cal students. My remarks, given alongside UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks and former United States Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, presented the perspective of a recent participant, director, and alumni—I emphasized how important programs such as Cal in the Capital and the Gardner Fellowship are to continued public sector engagement.

While attending the White House Fellowship’s 50th Anniversary and Leadership Conference events, I heard from some of the top leaders in American government, academia, and the private sector. These included, among others, United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the former Solicitor General of the United States Theodore B. Olson.

Me with UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks in Washington, D.C.

President Obama delivering remarks at the White House

At a White House reception for the fellows, President Obama noted the vital importance of the White House Fellowship, and went on to describe the change fellows bring to their communities following their year of service. After his speech, the president walked the rope line and a few of us were able to shake his hand. I thanked him for his leadership to which he responded, “Thank you so much, and make sure you keep doing what you’re doing.”

This week, Human Rights Watch released an 81- page report on abuses against people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, in northern Somalia, highlighting the importance of mental health services in post-conflict situations. The researchers found that men there with perceived or actual psychosocial disabilities are also locked up in chains, and suffer from beatings, involuntary treatment, and overcrowding in private and public health centers. Most are held against their will and have no possibility of challenging their detention. I was reminded again of that New York Times headline—this month had come full circle.

The last month has forced me to think deeply about the nature and scope of human rights work. A harsh reality is that change does not come in direct proportion to the level of effort or force of will. There is no guarantee that systems will alter or practices progress. I can live with that. From visceral front-page photographs to black tie galas with the nation’s top leaders, the past month has shown me this: we fail by giving up. Ankles and hands are still bound in chains, so we have no choice but to continue advocating, and be brave in the attempt.

Paras Shah is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. While at Cal he studied History and Political Science. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Human Rights Watch in New York City.


The Success of Failure

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 3:50pm

Posted by Gardner Fellow Danielle Puretz

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” – John Gardner

This has been an exciting couple of weeks in some of the communities that are John Gardner’s legacy. On October 17th, we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the John Gardner Fellowship, bringing together past and current fellows from both Berkeley and Stanford. And then this past weekend in Washington, D.C. several of us fellows were able to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the White House Fellowship program.

Since I’ve been with my placement for just about two months now, this was really the perfect time to remember the larger community that I’m participating in.

One of the greatest lessons that the John Gardner Fellowship community has shared, is this sort of comfort with failure. Alright, I’m not sure how comfortable anyone can really ever be with failure, but the fact is that no success is ever achieved without risking failure. So maybe sometimes such work, such progress, really looks like a looming failure hanging in front of your face.

Attendees of the Gardner 30th Anniversary Dinner

Past fellow, Donna Michelle Anderson, shared many insights and much advice with me—showing that the JGF which holds so highly the notion of mentorship, really practices what it preaches. One of the singular pieces she shared with me, was that I shouldn’t get caught up in titles or specific goals, but instead look for opportunities to learn and make choices that render me “even more limitless.” I think in this framework, where we focus on learning, failure is something easier to risk. And when we see the support of our fellowship community, made of so many people who have really put themselves on the line in so many ways, I don’t only feel the responsibility to follow suit and risk failure, but I feel excited about it.

Me with Gabe, a Gardner fellow from last year.

Washington, D.C. was its own sort of adventure. With two days at the White House Fellows Leadership Conference, sitting among incredible past fellows so well established and experienced, listening to speakers and conversations with some of the most influential people in the public sphere, a trip to the White House, and a gala at the National Portrait Gallery—this was a weekend of a life time!

At the White House!

I have to say, one of the biggest highlights for me was shaking President Obama’s hand. But beyond that high note, it is truly incredible to be surrounded by people who have made bold moves and transitions in their lives, who speak so highly of John Gardner, many of them provide fond personal memories. Being one of the youngest people in the room, it feels like I have a million life paths in front of me, and these events give me a taste of each of them with the extra special realization that I really don’t have to choose—that I can change my mind and try out many things.

These past weeks have taught me that John Gardner’s legacy are these communities of people who look to problems as challenges that they want to participate in addressing, who are not afraid of failure, who want to participate in growing these communities and who want to build this continuum through mentorship. I am honored and humbled to get to learn from and grow among these communities. Thank you to John Gardner, everyone who is a part of the JGF community, and everyone from the White House Fellows community.

Danielle Puretz is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving her BA in both Theater and Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Poetic Theater Productions.


DC Musings

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 9:57am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Lucy Song

I cannot believe that an entire month has passed since my last blog. Time sure flies by quickly around here! Many exciting things have happened since the end of September, and I am happy to say that I am really starting to like this city. Sometimes (and at the risk of being slightly creepy), as I pass by quaint little apartments lined up neatly on the streets with their fancy fall decorations, I can even imagine myself living and working here in the near future.

Compared to my life at Berkeley, where I have the regular schedule of going to lectures, sitting at FSM for hours, attending club meetings, and hanging out with friends, life in DC feels a lot more exciting as my schedule is a lot more unstructured and unpredictable. Sometimes I would hear about an interesting conference 30 minutes before it starts and attend it spontaneously, and sometimes my friends and I would suddenly decide to go on serendipitous outings.

For example, I got the chance to go on the White House Garden Tour last Saturday. Despite the chilly weather and getting 5 hours of sleep the night before, it was a lot of fun as it was the first time I’ve visited the inside of the White House. I also got the chance to reminisce about middle school memories as I attended the Owl City concert at the 9:30 Club. Similar to the Fillmore in San Francisco, the 9:30 Club is a hip and relatively small concert venue that showcases really good talents, like Youth Lagoon and Shakey Graves. I’d highly recommend you check it out if you are ever in D.C.! I will probably go to another concert at 9:30 before I leave. Speaking of concerts, I finally visited the Kennedy Center and listened to a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

My friend and I at the White House!

Seeing one of my favorite bands in middle school at the 9:30 Club

As my daily internship tasks involve in-depth research, I often deal with materials from the Library of Congress. Because of this, I’ve become a frequent visitor to the Library of Congress, navigating through its maze-like structure, looking at microfilms through archaic-looking microfilm readers, reading and soaking up the tranquil energy in the Main Reading Room. The Library of Congress is the biggest library in the world, and so far, it has yet to disappoint! The librarians and information desk volunteers are extremely helpful, and the Library also has cafes in case researchers and visitors get hungry.

Til next time,

Lucy

Lucy Song is a junior at UC Berkeley, studying history and public policy. She is currently interning at the Wilson Center as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


DC Musings

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 9:57am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Lucy Song

I cannot believe that an entire month has passed since my last blog. Time sure flies by quickly around here! Many exciting things have happened since the end of September, and I am happy to say that I am really starting to like this city. Sometimes (and at the risk of being slightly creepy), as I pass by quaint little apartments lined up neatly on the streets with their fancy fall decorations, I can even imagine myself living and working here in the near future.

Compared to my life at Berkeley, where I have the regular schedule of going to lectures, sitting at FSM for hours, attending club meetings, and hanging out with friends, life in DC feels a lot more exciting as my schedule is a lot more unstructured and unpredictable. Sometimes I would hear about an interesting conference 30 minutes before it starts and attend it spontaneously, and sometimes my friends and I would suddenly decide to go on serendipitous outings.

For example, I got the chance to go on the White House Garden Tour last Saturday. Despite the chilly weather and getting 5 hours of sleep the night before, it was a lot of fun as it was the first time I’ve visited the inside of the White House. I also got the chance to reminisce about middle school memories as I attended the Owl City concert at the 9:30 Club. Similar to the Fillmore in San Francisco, the 9:30 Club is a hip and relatively small concert venue that showcases really good talents, like Youth Lagoon and Shakey Graves. I’d highly recommend you check it out if you are ever in D.C.! I will probably go to another concert at 9:30 before I leave. Speaking of concerts, I finally visited the Kennedy Center and listened to a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

My friend and I at the White House!

Seeing one of my favorite bands in middle school at the 9:30 Club

As my daily internship tasks involve in-depth research, I often deal with materials from the Library of Congress. Because of this, I’ve become a frequent visitor to the Library of Congress, navigating through its maze-like structure, looking at microfilms through archaic-looking microfilm readers, reading and soaking up the tranquil energy in the Main Reading Room. The Library of Congress is the biggest library in the world, and so far, it has yet to disappoint! The librarians and information desk volunteers are extremely helpful, and the Library also has cafes in case researchers and visitors get hungry.

Til next time,

Lucy

Lucy Song is a junior at UC Berkeley, studying history and public policy. She is currently interning at the Wilson Center as a Matsui Washington Fellow.


Part II: Getting in the Swing of Things

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 3:21pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Ozi Emeziem

Since, I last wrote, things have changed – mainly, I no longer feel like a foreigner in the capital! Suddenly, I got into the swing of things…as if I always wake up at 6:30 a.m. for work, or that I always come home and chef up dinner as well as lunch for the next day, or that my office has always been just around the corner from top notch lawyers, or better yet, that I always go to the gym. As much as I love Cal and miss family and friends, I have to say, I have come to love the independence and the vast amount of opportunities in D.C.!

I intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and each day that I spend here, I find my curiosity grows. There’s a chance here to come along for the ride and witness action. To be a part of an organization that has dedicated itself to advancing civil rights. The Lawyers’ Committee was created at the request of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in response to the need to protect civil rights not just in the streets, but in the courts. It is composed of a wide range of professionals including attorneys, analysts, lobbyists, publicity specialists, grassroots organizers, and even cartographers, who all work on the principal projects of Fair Housing, Employment Discrimination, Education, and Voting Rights, in order to ensure equal justice through law.

I think back to how the events of Ferguson impacted many across the nation and how it affected and continues to affect the black community at Cal. There was a lot of anger, rage, but so much love and support that we knew we had to give to each other. A list of demands were created for the University and after several meetings as well as protests and demonstrations, specifically under Cal’s Black Student Union, meetings were set in place; it is this constant work of my fellow peers that I must acknowledge for the recent initiatives that the Chancellor released. Just as this is the case, it is the constant dedication of the staff at the Lawyers’ Committee that I must acknowledge, as the work that they do greatly impacts communities, specifically those of color. In particular, I think of voting rights and how essential the right to vote is, and how recent changes to voting rights will be detrimental to many communities of color. For instance, in the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the County to remove Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which essentially stated that specific states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must be subjected to preclearance before making any changes to things concerning voting. As Chief Justice Roberts put it, these states should not continue to be punished for the past. However, after this ruling, several of these states underwent problematic changes. For example, in Alabama, the state began to demand a photo ID in order to vote, but then recently, citing budget cuts, closed down eight out of ten DMV offices in predominantly black rural counties, where a majority tend to vote towards the left and solidly for President Barack Obama. If one really examines this, as the Lawyers’ Committee does in its voting rights reports, one will find that these changes make it extremely difficult for registered voters in these areas to rightfully engage in democratic elections.

My internship has exposed me to things that I just didn’t think of or talk about back at home. In fact, I will be the first to admit that the reason for my failure to vote last year despite being registered is the apathy I have felt towards politics. However, my short time here has shown me how powerful, essential, and what an undeniable civil right voting is in a democratic society. How democratic can we truly be if the voices of so many are not being heard?

On a lighter note, I have met some pretty amazing people here as well! I met Tanya Clay House, the previous Public Policy Director of the department I am interning for at the Lawyers’ Committee, who has done phenomenal work in this sphere and will continue that work in the Department of Education (you all should take time to Google her). I also had the pleasure of meeting Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama, the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. Did I also mention Reverend Jesse Jackson at the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus? I will also be attending the Women’s Leadership Forum where President Barack Obama, (oddly, why not the First Lady?), will be the keynote speaker. In addition, I’ve had really cool opportunities to attend Senate hearings. My next one is on the Juvenile Justice System and At-Risk Youth!

My favorite kitty at the cafe!

Mondays through Thursdays consist of work, but my weekends are dedicated only to exploring everything that I possibly can. My roommates and I recently took a trip to Baltimore. It was raining and I wouldn’t say that it is one of my favorite cities, but I’m happy I can check that city off my list! Last weekend, my roommate, who also happens to be one of my closest friends, and I went to the Landmark Music Festival and saw some of our favorite performers, like Wale, Miguel, and Drake, and got to sing our hearts away. I finally got to try Shake Shack, and while I will say it is good, it is a little bit pricey for its small portions. I will gladly take In-N-Out any day. I spent some time at Crumbs & Whiskers, my first time at a cat cafe, and I also officially found my favorite cafe, Busboys and Poets! It has the most amazing atmosphere – hip, good vibes, chill R&B music, great food, strong coffee, and it’s a bookstore as well. For their 10th anniversary, they had a dance party with Angela Davis and Alice Walker- I didn’t buy my ticket in time, but honestly, tell me where else I can find a dance party with two of my idols??

My friends and I at the concert, plus my big goofy smile!

I have concluded before my stay is even over that I love it on the East Coast, especially now that I am officially 21! I brought in my birthday (October 6th-shoutout to all the Libras) in a new place without all my friends, family, even worse, my twin, but the calls, the texts, the posts, and the likes have definitely made me feel the love even if I’m across the country. I’m going to New York on Friday, then participating in the Million Man March on Saturday, and finally closing it out with a nice spa day on Sunday. One of my best friends from home also came out to visit so at least I have a part of home with me on this special day.

My twin and me 21 years ago!

Ozi Emeziem is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying comparative literature and ethnic studies. She is currently interning with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


Part II: Getting in the Swing of Things

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 3:21pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Ozi Emeziem

Since, I last wrote, things have changed – mainly, I no longer feel like a foreigner in the capital! Suddenly, I got into the swing of things…as if I always wake up at 6:30 a.m. for work, or that I always come home and chef up dinner as well as lunch for the next day, or that my office has always been just around the corner from top notch lawyers, or better yet, that I always go to the gym. As much as I love Cal and miss family and friends, I have to say, I have come to love the independence and the vast amount of opportunities in D.C.!

I intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and each day that I spend here, I find my curiosity grows. There’s a chance here to come along for the ride and witness action. To be a part of an organization that has dedicated itself to advancing civil rights. The Lawyers’ Committee was created at the request of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in response to the need to protect civil rights not just in the streets, but in the courts. It is composed of a wide range of professionals including attorneys, analysts, lobbyists, publicity specialists, grassroots organizers, and even cartographers, who all work on the principal projects of Fair Housing, Employment Discrimination, Education, and Voting Rights, in order to ensure equal justice through law.

I think back to how the events of Ferguson impacted many across the nation and how it affected and continues to affect the black community at Cal. There was a lot of anger, rage, but so much love and support that we knew we had to give to each other. A list of demands were created for the University and after several meetings as well as protests and demonstrations, specifically under Cal’s Black Student Union, meetings were set in place; it is this constant work of my fellow peers that I must acknowledge for the recent initiatives that the Chancellor released. Just as this is the case, it is the constant dedication of the staff at the Lawyers’ Committee that I must acknowledge, as the work that they do greatly impacts communities, specifically those of color. In particular, I think of voting rights and how essential the right to vote is, and how recent changes to voting rights will be detrimental to many communities of color. For instance, in the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the County to remove Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which essentially stated that specific states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must be subjected to preclearance before making any changes to things concerning voting. As Chief Justice Roberts put it, these states should not continue to be punished for the past. However, after this ruling, several of these states underwent problematic changes. For example, in Alabama, the state began to demand a photo ID in order to vote, but then recently, citing budget cuts, closed down eight out of ten DMV offices in predominantly black rural counties, where a majority tend to vote towards the left and solidly for President Barack Obama. If one really examines this, as the Lawyers’ Committee does in its voting rights reports, one will find that these changes make it extremely difficult for registered voters in these areas to rightfully engage in democratic elections.

My internship has exposed me to things that I just didn’t think of or talk about back at home. In fact, I will be the first to admit that the reason for my failure to vote last year despite being registered is the apathy I have felt towards politics. However, my short time here has shown me how powerful, essential, and what an undeniable civil right voting is in a democratic society. How democratic can we truly be if the voices of so many are not being heard?

On a lighter note, I have met some pretty amazing people here as well! I met Tanya Clay House, the previous Public Policy Director of the department I am interning for at the Lawyers’ Committee, who has done phenomenal work in this sphere and will continue that work in the Department of Education (you all should take time to Google her). I also had the pleasure of meeting Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama, the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. Did I also mention Reverend Jesse Jackson at the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus? I will also be attending the Women’s Leadership Forum where President Barack Obama, (oddly, why not the First Lady?), will be the keynote speaker. In addition, I’ve had really cool opportunities to attend Senate hearings. My next one is on the Juvenile Justice System and At-Risk Youth!

My favorite kitty at the cafe!

Mondays through Thursdays consist of work, but my weekends are dedicated only to exploring everything that I possibly can. My roommates and I recently took a trip to Baltimore. It was raining and I wouldn’t say that it is one of my favorite cities, but I’m happy I can check that city off my list! Last weekend, my roommate, who also happens to be one of my closest friends, and I went to the Landmark Music Festival and saw some of our favorite performers, like Wale, Miguel, and Drake, and got to sing our hearts away. I finally got to try Shake Shack, and while I will say it is good, it is a little bit pricey for its small portions. I will gladly take In-N-Out any day. I spent some time at Crumbs & Whiskers, my first time at a cat cafe, and I also officially found my favorite cafe, Busboys and Poets! It has the most amazing atmosphere – hip, good vibes, chill R&B music, great food, strong coffee, and it’s a bookstore as well. For their 10th anniversary, they had a dance party with Angela Davis and Alice Walker- I didn’t buy my ticket in time, but honestly, tell me where else I can find a dance party with two of my idols??

My friends and I at the concert, plus my big goofy smile!

I have concluded before my stay is even over that I love it on the East Coast, especially now that I am officially 21! I brought in my birthday (October 6th-shoutout to all the Libras) in a new place without all my friends, family, even worse, my twin, but the calls, the texts, the posts, and the likes have definitely made me feel the love even if I’m across the country. I’m going to New York on Friday, then participating in the Million Man March on Saturday, and finally closing it out with a nice spa day on Sunday. One of my best friends from home also came out to visit so at least I have a part of home with me on this special day.

My twin and me 21 years ago!

Ozi Emeziem is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying comparative literature and ethnic studies. She is currently interning with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


Realizing My Dreams in NYC!

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 10:14am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

As I reflect upon my previous life where I was confined for up to twenty-two and a half hours per day to an 8-by-10 foot prison cell in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, I recall that I would often get lost in my thoughts, hopelessly dreaming that one day I would live in New York City after my release. Although I did not have a clue of how I would make this dream come true I just knew that it was something that I wanted. At the same time I understood that opportunities that would allow me to make this dream come true would be limited to me because of my status as a formerly incarcerated person. Knowing this reality that as a formerly incarcerated person it was legally permissible to be denied access to basic resources, such as, housing, employment, health care and food stamps, I was forced to put my dream aside after my release and focus on transitioning back into society after fourteen years of incarceration.

Immediately after my release from prison on January 19th, 2010, I decided to complete what I started while in solitary confinement; which was my Associate of Arts degree. I enrolled into Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, where I eventually found a support system among faculty, academic counselors, staff members and students who encouraged me to pursue my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley. As a formerly incarcerated student, having this support system was vital for my success, and this support system was not limited to academics. It was through my support system at Cerritos College that I obtained my first stable job working at the student support center. This job allowed me to see myself as a resource to other students. Which is something I want to be for other formerly incarcerated students.

NYC the big city of dreams, and I’m just trying to live mine!

After transferring to the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2012 I was vocal about my past experience with incarceration and solitary confinement. I wanted to use my past experience as a platform to advocate for those who were presently and formerly incarcerated. At the University of California, Berkeley I participated in the creation of the Underground Scholars Initiative, an organization for students who have been directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex. Being part of the Underground Scholars Initiative allowed me to expand on my vision of being a resource to formerly incarcerated students, it also instilled in me the belief that a critical education is a powerful tool for transformation and rehabilitation.

Katz’s Delicatessen where Harry met Sally, and I just came for the pastrami sandwhich!

The John W. Gardner Fellowship for Public Service has given me the opportunity to work with two organizations that are providing education to presently and formerly incarcerated people. The Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. My role as a program analyst at the Vera Institute of Justice will be working under the Center on Sentencing and Corrections, which is taking the lead on the Pathways Project that provides incentive funding and technical assistance to three states (Michigan, New Jersey & North Carolina) to expand access to higher education for those who are presently and formerly incarcerated. This project seeks to demonstrate that access to post-secondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings to formerly incarcerated people.

It is my role as a completion counselor at the Mountain View Program at Rutgers University that I am most excited about. The Mountainview Program and its associated student organization (MVP-SO) promote campus awareness regarding incarceration, recidivism, criminal justice, and the benefits of higher education. I will be working directly with formerly incarcerated students who are transitioning back into society after their release from incarceration within the New Jersey Department of Corrections. I feel blessed to be in a position where I am able to be a resource to formerly incarcerated students who seek to transform their lives through education, in the same fashion that my support system at Cerritos College did for me.

Determined to succeed. Not just for myself, but for those who will come after me!!!

At the same time through the Gardner Fellowship I’m able to make my dream come true of living in New York City. Although technically I’m living in Jersey City; but it’s a lot closer to the big apple then the torture chambers of the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison!

Danny Murillo is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving his BA in Ethnic Studies. He is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University.


Realizing My Dreams in NYC!

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 10:14am

Posted by John Gardner Fellow Danny Murillo

As I reflect upon my previous life where I was confined for up to twenty-two and half hours per day to an 8-by-10 foot prison cell in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, I recall that I would often get lost in my thoughts, hopelessly dreaming that one day I would live in New York City after my release. Although I did not have a clue of how I would make this dream come true I just knew that it was something that I wanted. At the same time I understood that opportunities that would allow me to make this dream come true would be limited to me because of my status as a formerly incarcerated person. Knowing this reality that as a formerly incarcerated person it was legally permissible to be denied access to basic resources, such as, housing, employment, health care and food stamps, I was forced to put my dream aside after my release and focus on transitioning back into society after fourteen years of incarceration.

Immediately after my release from prison on January 19th, 2010, I decided to complete what I started while in solitary confinement; which was my Associate of Arts degree. I enrolled into Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, where I eventually found a support system among faculty, academic counselors, staff members and students who encouraged me to pursue my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley. As a formerly incarcerated student, having this support system was vital for my success, and this support system was not limited to academics. It was through my support system at Cerritos College that I obtained my first stable job working at the student support center. This job allowed me to see myself as a resource to other students. Which is something I want to be for other formerly incarcerated students.

NYC the big city of dreams, and I’m just trying to live mine!

After transferring to the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2012 I was vocal about my past experience with incarceration and solitary confinement. I wanted to use my past experience as a platform to advocate for those who were presently and formerly incarcerated. At the University of California, Berkeley I participated in the creation of the Underground Scholars Initiative, an organization for students who have been directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex. Being part of the Underground Scholars Initiative allowed me to expand on my vision of being a resource to formerly incarcerated students, it also instilled in me the belief that a critical education is a powerful tool for transformation and rehabilitation.

Katz’s Delicatessen where Harry met Sally, and I just came for the pastrami sandwhich!

The John W. Gardner Fellowship for Public Service has given me the opportunity to work with two organizations that are providing education to presently and formerly incarcerated people. The Vera Institute of Justice in New York City and the Mountainview Program at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. My role as a program analyst at the Vera Institute of Justice will be working under the Center on Sentencing and Corrections, which is taking the lead on the Pathways Project that provides incentive funding and technical assistance to three states (Michigan, New Jersey & North Carolina) to expand access to higher education for those who are presently and formerly incarcerated. This project seeks to demonstrate that access to post-secondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings to formerly incarcerated people.

It is my role as a completion counselor at the Mountain View Program at Rutgers University that I am most excited about. The Mountainview Program and its associated student organization (MVP-SO) promote campus awareness regarding incarceration, recidivism, criminal justice, and the benefits of higher education. I will be working directly with formerly incarcerated students who are transitioning back into society after their release from incarceration within the New Jersey Department of Corrections. I feel blessed to be in a position where I am able to be a resource to formerly incarcerated students who seek to transform their lives through education, in the same fashion that my support system at Cerritos College did for me.

Determined to succeed. Not just for myself, but for those who will come after me!!!

At the same time through the Gardner Fellowship I’m able to make my dream come true of living in New York City. Although technically I’m living in Jersey City; but it’s a lot closer to the big apple then the torture chambers of the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison!


Pages