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WLP 2020 Week 7: Transformational Insiders, From South Side Chicago to Sarajevo

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

This week, we were exposed to several leaders in our community who continue to peel back the shiny wallpaper of the American Dream to challenge the deep-seated injustices that permeate our shared home.

On Monday, we spoke with Mini Timmaraju and Linda Shim, both long-time leaders on Capitol Hill, who recently shifted to Comcast NBCUniversal to lead their EDI and External Affairs work. They shared many insights on how they have leveraged their political skills and progressive values at Comcast to drive internal and external investment in historically marginalized communities. Later that evening, we spoke with Meg Shah and Noor Rahman, both young powerhouses who shared their honest experiences navigating personal and career obstacles that eventually led them to their meaningful work in public education and class action litigation, respectively.

On Tuesday, we had the privilege of hearing from Faiz Shakir, the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential and current National Political Director of the ACLU. Faiz shared how he is pulled into the American political system because of his desire to challenge its injustices. However, he noted that though there is critical value in pushing from the inside, there are times we may need to “vote with our feet,” or depart from spaces that are not willing to challenge the status quo.

Later that evening, WLP Board Member Riya Patel facilitated a public speaking workshop where we had the opportunity to practice our elevator pitches and receive tailored feedback. We also shared some hearty laughs over an impromptu Q&A about Riya’s fascinating work experiences (FNU/LNU — if you know, you know). On Wednesday evening, we spoke with Sonal Shah, the National Policy Director for Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign. She emphasized that we must always seek to affect meaningful impact with the power we accumulate, and center our why in the roles we take on.

To wrap up the week, we had a moving conversation with Anurima Bhargava and Monika Kalra Varma — two inspiring, resilient, and community-grounded trailblazers in the civil and human rights space. Anurima, the Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), centered the importance of creating communities of belonging, dignity, and wealth. Monika, the Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco, emphasized the value of building spaces that are proactive, creative, healing, and operate with a learning mindset. Anurima and Monika have worked as “transformational insiders” — amplifying community stories from Sarajevo to South Side Chicago.

Soaking in the sunrise as I watched a Senate hearing for my internship with USAID, laughing until I cried with my eight new friends over FaceTime, enjoying a social distance picnic by a hiking trail, and filling up the last few pages of my journal with path-altering career insights were the colorful gems of my week.

Overall, the past several weeks have shattered all cautiously optimistic expectations I had for our digital WLP summer. The WLP network connects us with hundreds of humble giants who continue to pay it forward by sharing their time with us. My inspiring cohort is blooming with curiosity, compassion, energy, and dedication. And last but not least, WLP’s hardworking board is approachable, accommodating, and deeply invested in supporting each of us professionally and personally.

For all these reasons and more, I am feeling incredibly fortunate, energized, and fired up. As we approach week eight, I continue to reflect on the words of author Isabel Wilkerson:

“We in this country are like homeowners who inherited a house. [...] here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures in the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Rucha Modi

U.S. Agency for International Development

University of California, Los Angeles 2021


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