Today’s guest blogger is Cara Brumfield, who assisted the Emerson Program staff with this year’s Midfield Retreat Training in New Market, Tennessee. The 23rd Class Emerson National Hunger Fellows convened to discuss what they’ve learned so far in their work at their field sites, sharing resources and best practices and building the fellowship community.
My name is Cara Brumfield and I was in the 17th class of Emerson Hunger Fellows. Since completing the Emerson Hunger Fellowship, I have had the privilege of helping train new Hunger Fellows year after year while simultaneously completing a Master of Public Policy degree and beginning my career in advocacy. In the past, I have participated in the Emerson Hunger Fellowship selections process, helped Fellows develop their community guidelines, and worked with them through day-long group decision-making sessions. This year, I was happy to be invited to participate in the mid-field training at the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee.
When I arrived at the Highlander Center, it was late evening and I was greeted by Emerson Hunger Fellowship Program Managers Jon Wogman, who I have known since I was a Fellow myself, and Albert Ramirez, a newer team member (and 20th Class Emerson Fellow) whom I had once had the privilege to help train when he was a Fellow. These are two of the many meaningful friendships that I have developed as a result of the Emerson Hunger Fellowship. Over the next few days, I would learn so much about being a mentor and a leader from both of them.
The next morning I was introduced to the current class of Fellows. Throughout the day, I was impressed with their thoughtfulness and engagement with the training process. Before I had even memorized all their names, I was already picking up on their personalities—funny, kind, skeptical, analytical, and passionate. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my own time as a Fellow. The laughter, the hard days, the great conversations, the debates, and the work I did in Boston at the Food Project and in Washington, D.C. at the Poverty Race Research Action Council—it all helped me to become the person I am. I didn’t let my mind linger too long in the past, though. There was too much exciting work to be present for.
The training sessions were awesome opportunities to teach and learn. I refined my group training techniques by observing Jon and Albert working with the Fellows and by discussing the strategies with them. I also enjoyed participating in the sessions myself. In particular, the class and race caucuses gave me time to reflect on the ways in which aspects of one’s identity molds one’s experiences, perspectives, and even opportunities in life. I learned a lot from the Fellows’ insights and was inspired by the grace and openness with which they shared their challenges and triumphs with the group.
I was also able to connect with the Fellows one-on-one and share discussions about things like graduate school, career trajectories, and social justice. I look forward to continuing to get to know each of them when they return to Washington, D.C. for their policy placements. Surrounded by the astonishing view of the Smoky Mountains, we had discussions about how best to effect change. Should one become a politician? An economist? A social worker? A researcher? What are the most pressing social issues? Hunger? Education? Housing? Civil rights?
The Highland Center was the perfect backdrop for such conversations. What an honor it was to spend time in a place with a rich history of hosting labor union organizers and civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks, who attended a workshop there before refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and changing the world forever.
Spending time with these young leaders inspired me and reminded me that the future is in the hands of bold, empowered, justice-minded people like the Emerson Hunger Fellows. That gives me great hope. As Rosa Parks once said, “Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way.”