The 26th Class of Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellows celebrated a virtual commencement on July 22, 2020, marking the end of their 11-month fellowships. They were joined by over 100 friends, family, fellowship alums, Hunger Center staff, and supervisors and colleagues from their field and policy placements, who attended the virtual ceremony from across the country.
The event, emceed by Senior Program Associate and Hunger Fellow alum Sakeenah Shabazz, opened with prerecorded remarks from members of the Hunger Center’s Board of Directors. “Your work has helped amplify the voices of people struggling with food insecurity and will help guide future conversations on anti-hunger policy,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, Hunger Center Board Chair and co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus. “We need more leaders like you in the world…. The research and conversations that each of you have started during your time with the Congressional Hunger Center are critical in understanding the intersection of nutrition, poverty, policy, and health.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee thanked the fellows for choosing to make a difference through service as Emerson Hunger Fellows. “Each and everyone one of you, you are special in this fight,” said Jackson Lee; “You have made a difference in this fight, you have made a commitment that we will end hunger now.”
Fellows then introduced their field site partners in short videos and recognized each other for their friendship and outstanding work throughout the year. While the coronavirus pandemic, declared only a few days after the fellowship’s transition from field to policy placements in March, required all fellows to complete the second half of their year through remote work, the strong bonds between fellows were plain to see.
Fellows then presented awards for Field and Policy Supervisor of the Year to Matt Lyons of APHSA, and Melanie Pang of the Houston Food Bank.
Closing remarks were delivered by Executive Director and Hunger Fellow alum Shannon Maynard. “Never lose your idealism, your curiosity, or your impatience for change,” she urged the fellows. “We need leaders like you who have courage of conviction to speak truth even when it’s unpopular, actively listen to those who might have a different point of view, and espouse the hope and actual solutions we need to see the symptoms of hunger subside, because we finally cured what causes it.”
“Working with the 26th Class of Emerson Fellows has been an absolute joy,” said Sakeenah Shabazz, “because they are such a thoughtful, energetic, and hard-working cohort. I remember participating in their interviewing and selections process in April 2019, and to see them come this far, especially in the middle of a pandemic, makes me really proud. I hope they always believe that they can be agents of change and that they’re part of the solution to ending hunger and poverty in our lifetime.” The Hunger Center is proud of the 26th Class and the resilience, determination, and innovative approaches they have shown towards eliminating hunger and poverty in our lifetime. We wish them all the best in their next endeavors!