BY CHANARA ANDREWS
My first night in Seattle, I cried myself to sleep. I could not believe that I had signed up to travel “clear across the country with no human or canine companion,” to quote a text I sent to a friend that same night. Now, nine weeks later, I struggle to leave. My HBCUI summer has been unlike anything I have hitherto experienced, and will be difficult to top. Before the close of my first week, Jimi and I had a meeting to discuss the trajectory of my internship – this included choosing which events I’d participate in, coming up with a focus for my outreach, and, surprisingly, selfish goals. When Jimi asked me what my selfish goals were, I was a bit thrown off, so I had to take a minute for some introspection. The very moment in which I had to assess what I wanted to gain from my HBCUI summer has been a guiding light throughout the duration of my internship. The goals discussed that afternoon were, of course, directly related to the time I would spend at KLSE, but they also forced me to think about what long-term goals I had and how I planned to achieve them.
With educating at the collegiate level as my ultimate career aspiration, it was important to me that the experience I gained this summer be transferrable and related (even if seemingly remotely) to that goal. My internship was especially beneficial in the fact that I was afforded a great deal of autonomy while also having the opportunity to be part of a collaborative group, and the meeting point of these two is a position that I am likely to be in within my desired field. Developing the program, mentor training, and working with IMBY to begin the specific curriculum were invaluable experiences that will undoubtedly help me in my future.
Developing APAP was, of course, an amazing experience that allowed me to make many community connections, but it was just as (if not more) gratifying to be able to simply engage with the community at various events, which was the satisfaction of a more personal goal for me. As a member of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated – a community-conscious, action-oriented organization – I firmly believe that when one enters a community, it is one’s responsibility to positively impact the community. Developing APAP and Seattle’s Black Reflections are both long-term methods by which I sought to do so, while being a smiling face and interactive person at events was a more immediate impact. Whether my presence at an event is what showed a black child that there is hope and opportunity for them, or let a member of the LGBTQIA community see that their life and their love is celebrated by the agencies in their physical community, both instances hold their own merit and exemplify the importance of engaging beyond the physical boundaries of the parks.
Perhaps my favorite thing about working at KLSE was the park’s constant push to not only encourage the community to get out, but to do the same themselves! People took note of and even commented on the ever-increasing community involvement because, sadly, this has not been typical of the National Park Service. Being at KLSE, helping to change the narrative, and taking the park outside of what has long been considered the NPS norm was inspirational, and led me to realize that these same practices should be applied in my everyday life. By taking myself outside of my norm this summer, I gained work experience, life lessons, and a family in the Pacific Northwest. I can only imagine what pushing my norms will do for me in the future.