When schools break for summer, free and reduced-price meals that millions of low-income children and families rely on during the regular school year end, leaving families to figure out how to close this gap in nutrition for their children. Fortunately, the D.C. Free Summer Meals Program helps families close the gap by providing nutritious meals and snacks to children ages 18 and under. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is the District’s largest summer meal sponsor, delivering meals to over 200 recreation facilities, community programs, and faith-based programs.
I have Potomac Fever, not to be confused with Potomac Horse Fever, a deadly disease spread by mayflies. Rather, I have become enamored with the District of Columbia, or as I like to call it, simply ‘The District.’ DC has so much to offer young people: for the thirsty, there’s happy hour; for the hungry, there’s brunch; and for the politically concerned, there’s no better place to be. It’s not uncommon to be walking up the escalator from the metro (staying to the left, as I learned on my first day) and overhear a conversation about topics ranging from the coup in Egypt to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act mark-up in the Senate HELP committee to the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act in the Supreme Court. This is a city where things happen, but more importantly, this is a city where people make things happen.
In Washington, D.C., according to D.C. Municipal Regulation 18-2302, it is illegal for an individual to cross a street when faced with a “DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” sign. However, there are times when this will simply not work. Washington is a city in which seemingly everyone has an important meeting to get to, as well as an important cause for which to fight. For me, that cause is the protection of religious freedom and the separation of Church and State. In my internship, I have seen firsthand how busy this fight can make me, even on a supposedly slow day. If I have to get to a lobby meeting on the Hill at 1:00 PM, and I am coming from a coalition meeting that went a little over time at 12:20 PM, I don’t always have time to wait for a “WALK” signal, particularly if the street is clear, nor do congressional staff have time to wait for me.
As an intern for the NAACP Washington Bureau, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the NAACP National Convention, themed “We Shall Not Be Moved,” in Orlando (coincidently landing us in Florida just in time for the announcement of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case). In between some staff responsibilities, I attended plenary sessions, mass meetings, luncheons, workshops, a resolutions meeting and a variety of other events covering topics that ranged from the Voting Rights Act and the George Zimmerman case to Immigration and Veterans Affairs. I heard from NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, Myrlie Evers-Williams, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, several Members of Congress and countless others who each provided words of wisdom and inspiration.
Did you know that there is not a single state in the United States in which a person earning minimum wage, working 40 hours a week can afford a two-bedroom apartment? A person earning the federal minimum wage – $7.25 – cannot provide for his or her basic needs and the basic needs of his or her family. The current federal minimum wage has only been increased three times in the past thirty years, despite inflation. In fact, had the minimum wage been adjusted for inflation over the past 40 years, it would now be $10.69. Instead, it remains more than $3 per hour lower in real value than it was 40 years ago. As such, the minimum wage is currently decreasing in real value, affecting the lives of millions of minimum wage workers throughout the country working full time and living in poverty.
Growing up, I often worked as a volunteer at a homeless shelter. I remember hearing the residents’ stories of how difficult life was for them, working full time but still unable to afford a home for themselves and their children. Hearing these residents’ stories taught me at a young age that employment does not guarantee that a person will be able to rise out of poverty or even provide for the most basic needs of his or her children.
You never know. You never know what an experience will hold; you never know how life can change; you never know how you can change; you never know what you may discover. Something that I have learned this summer, however, is that it is okay to not know. Within our first few weeks of being here, former White House Jewish Liaison Zach Kelly gave us an important piece of advice: do not be concerned with your future job title. Being that I have many interests and am a future-oriented person, I appreciated his advice because I suddenly no longer felt in a rush to decide exactly what I wanted to do in my life. Being on Machon Kaplan, I have learned that each piece of my journey and each experience with which I engage helps me reach that goal, so there is no need to rush.
In 2011, there were 14,612 homicides in the United States. 43 people were executed in 13 states. This year, there have already been 18 executions, including Texas’ 500th since 1982. Dismal statistics like these consume my days working at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
On a more positive note, six states in the last six years have abolished the death penalty, bringing the total to 18 states. Sure, those states are all blue as can be (Obama won NY, NJ, NM, IL, CT, and MD in 2008 and 2012), but the next abolition victories will likely be in some purple and red states– including Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Hampshire.
This June, the Supreme Court was quickly running out of days to announce decisions, and all eyes narrowed on the few cases left before the close of the Court’s term — among them, the decisions about marriage equality and affirmative action.” Some ambitious interns, including me, decided that we wanted to witness history being made. For better or worse, witnessing history required us to camp outside the Supreme Court at 2am on Monday morning.
After 7 hours on the sidewalk, we entered the Court. The opinions for two different decisions were being read, and all I wanted was to sleep in my chair when the Court clerk announced the decision of Fisher v. University of Texas. There was a collective gasp of anticipation as everyone in the room sat a little straighter in their seats.