I spent the majority of my summer afternoons in Sproul Hall surrounded by 19 other fellows, PhD candidates and postdocs. We all represented the 14th cohort of the UCB Summer Institute for Preparing Future Faculty. We hailed from a plethora of disciplines, from Integrative Biology to Ethnic Studies to Mechanical Engineering — all there to tackle issues facing future faculty members by exploring the landscape of higher education.
My summer schedule consisted of studying constitutional law in the morning at Boalt Hall and studying higher education in my afternoons as a summer fellow. During the fellowship, we would meet in the afternoon and present research on current issues and trends in higher education, develop our teaching portfolios, and listen to panelists of faculty members from several institutions across the Bay Area. Many of the panelist were former Berkeley Summer Institute Fellows, which was very encouraging.
My research explores social justice issues in education, including issues of gender equality, diversity and inclusion, and case law. In an effort to reshape future policies in education, to further my research I began analyzing past Supreme Court decisions. The goal of my research is to equip marginalized and underrepresented minorities with better opportunities to overcome barriers for academic and community achievement. Although better opportunities to overcome barriers are desirable in itself, strengthening the civic empowerment of youth creates a force beyond academics in the realm of community engagement. My research aims to capture how community forces influence politics, and how politics help to create policy.
As I navigated through the streets of Berkeley, I noticed a shift in my perspective. Each day as I walked from campus to my apartment on Telegraph, I would see and hear homeless individuals speak out, seeking for aid. One day I heard, “Sir, can you spare some change?” – said a man sitting outside Fat Slice Pizza. I gave change and continued to walk. “Ay man, I like your hat. Help a brother out,” said the another gentleman near the Bank of America. I gave change but this time as I began to walk away, I stopped and said, “Where are you from?” “Oakland,” he replied. “Do you like pizza?” I asked. “YEAH, man. Pepperoni,” he said. I told him to follow me inside and we proceeded to place our order.
In that moment, I became aware of this dichotomy.
Here I was, a black man on a block near campus, studying at Berkeley, walking past several black men, also on a block near campus who needed money to eat. Wait, what just happened? I was stunned by the number of homeless individuals near campus. In turn, they were stunned that a black man researching at Berkeley could casually talk about inner city politics with keen knowledge of the street dynamics of Oakland. It was like an entirely separate world existed right across the street on the same block.
These casual encounters turned into weekly discussions with several homeless individuals near campus. I began to notice something. They no longer requested donations; rather, they asked me about my day. They wanted to talk about my Berkeley research or the politics of the day, whether it was the current administration or Oakland politics. I knew everyone by name and the area of Oakland they were from. It meant a lot to them. As the fellowship came to an end, I took them to Bongo Burger on my final week. Though it seemed like things were coming to an end, in regard to being an advocate for social justice, I knew this was merely the beginning. At best, this attempt to make a difference inspired the men and women I became friends with. At worst, hungry men and women were fed. In the midst of it all, a single gesture inspired me to begin a non-profit sponsoring effort for the Berkeley/Oakland area.
My summer fellowship concluded the way it began, listening to Professor Kim Voss encourage us to go out into the world and do amazing things with the high quality of education we have received. As always, she was very inspiring. The same can be said for two of my mentors, Linda von Hoene and Sabrina Soracco, both of whom have Berkeley Ph.D.s and co-direct the Summer Institute.
Now, when people ask about my summer research and fellowship at Berkeley, I will speak about the inspiration of the one block (Telegraph and Bancroft) and two worlds (Scholarship and Community).