This has been the toughest Letter from the Editor that I’ve written. Normally, this missive in the summer newsletter is just a quick recap of Community Weekend, which is always such a vibrant and exciting event. And this newsletter does include photos from the virtual sessions we held this year for our modified CW. We were pleased, delighted, and excited - though, of course, not surprised - by how community members stepped up and jumped in to make this year’s event special. Colleen Seidel led a marvelous discussion on mental health and relieving ourselves of the expectation that everything needs to work out perfectly to have a life to be proud of - and we were proud that there were a range of community members in attendance, from Alums of the earliest classes of the program to Scholars who had been chosen just a few weeks earlier. Suzi Nam and I got the opportunity to connect with Scholars during class meetings. Board member Joe Gordon, Scholars Isaiah Washington and Alfi Muhamad, Alumni Board members Erin Crum and Josh Smith, among others, led affinity group meetings so that community members could connect across years - and across miles - to discuss issues of shared identity. And, of course, there was an Alumni social gathering so that friends who hadn’t seen each other since last year, or longer, could reconnect. It was different, and it was virtual, but the community came together to make the weekend’s events special.
So, it isn’t because Community Weekend was held differently than past years that makes this letter a little more challenging. Nor is it the pandemic, which we are all still dealing with in one way or another. Learning how to navigate the new ways of approaching our lives can be uncomfortable, and among other things that we at the LSF are feeling is the hope that you all are negotiating the “new normal” as calmly and as seamlessly as possible. Neither is this letter formidable because of the awakening that the country is having about our history, our present, and what it really means to be a person of color in America. What I see is transformation, growth coming from change; what I hope we’ll all continue to see in our community is a rethinking about what we want “opportunity” to mean, for us and for others. I see bright lights shining on problems that have existed for a long time, because until the light is on it, it can’t be addressed. I see hope: the hope of change, the hope of possibility.
All of this is on my mind, but in fact this letter is more difficult because it is my last for the Lenfest Scholars newsletter. By the end of the summer, I will be across the country in a new role in a different organization. As excited as I am by that new adventure, I can’t deny the fact that I will miss this incredible community. The LSF staff has been my stabilizer, steadying rocks in choppy waters, my friends and my inspiration. The Board members put in tremendous effort to support the Scholars and Alumni and to make changes in individual lives that will turn into changes in our world, and I am particularly thankful to Board members who have shown me support over the years. The parents of Scholars are among the kindest people I’ve ever encountered, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the chance to work with them as we’ve teamed up to support their kids through the college process. But, oh, goodness: the Scholars and Alumni...I could fill pages of tributes to them. My introduction to the Lenfest community came from an Alum who approached me at my first Community Weekend a few weeks after I’d officially started at the LSF - when I am sure I looked overwhelmed and in awe of everything that was happening - and said, “You look new; do you want to sit here for lunch?” That gesture revealed both genuine kindness (because who doesn’t fear walking into a cafeteria where you know almost no one?) and an authentic interest in meeting new people and welcoming them to the Lenfest Community. Since that day, I’ve gotten to know multiple classes of Scholars and Alumni, and I’ve delighted in every opportunity. Most commonly, I start discussions with Scholars about their college plans or their college progress, but I’ve been lucky to have had the occasion to talk about so much more. I’ve gotten into deep conversations about the importance of community organizing with one Scholar, and discovered a mutual deep affinity for the TV show Community with another. Marveled at a Scholar’s presentation to her high school about her path toward college. Shared meals out with Scholars as a study break during their college finals. Cheered a Scholar on as he starred in his high school’s musical. Interviewed an Alum about her new and beloved job in the medical field she’d been studying for years. Laughed with a Scholar about a humorous situation she had gotten into; cried with another who was dealing with grief. I’ve gotten to see Scholars in their high school settings and on their college campuses. There have been many lunches and dinners with individual Scholars, and gatherings in New York, DC, and Philadelphia with groups of Alumni and Scholars. The multiple conversations on Zoom, on FaceTime, in coffeeshops and restaurants will stay with me. Most of the time, these talks left me smiling; always, they left me thinking. The opportunities to work with, and get to know, the Scholars and the Alumni of the Lenfest Scholars Foundation have made me evermore hopeful about how our world is going to change as these people spread their intelligence and their energy in the areas that mean something to them.
While I am sad to be saying goodbye to the LSF, I am taking with me that hopefulness and all of those positive memories. I am tremendously lucky to have been part of this organization, and I am sincerely thankful to everyone with whom I was fortunate to work. Be well and do good.