Phyllicia’s Summer in DC
by Phyllicia Thomas
This summer I had the pleasure of interning with the Keystone Policy Center under senior policy director Kevin Bryan. Keystone Policy Center is an organization that helps, private, and civic-sector leaders solve complex problems and advance good public policy. This includes establishing establish new partnerships, reducing conflict, and producing policy agreements. In short, they are serve the role as strategic consultants, and I worked exclusively for one of their clients, which is the Next 100 Coalition.
The Next 100 Coalition is a group of about 53 civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations who are advocating for greater inclusion of diverse communities in our country’s national parks and other public lands. The Next 100 coalition wants to create a public lands system that better reflects America and all the various races/ethnicities who live here, not just the white majority. To reach this goal, the coalition believes that public lands must reflect the faces of our country, respect all cultures, and engage all people. On January 12th of 2017, the Next 100 Coalition reached a huge milestone and obtained a Presidential memorandum from President Obama, in which he directed federal land and water management agencies to engage in diversity and inclusion efforts to ensure “ all Americans have the opportunity to experience and enjoy our public lands and waters”. This memorandum focuses on four specific marginalized groups, which were defined as minorities, low-income, disabled populations, and tribal communities. The main themes of the memorandum were
- Recruitment and Advancement of Staff with Marginalized Identities
- Access to and Enjoyment of Public lands and waters
- Public Engagement in Public Lands and Water Decisions
As you can see, this memorandum sounds like it enforces everything that the Next 100 Coalition stands for. This leads Keystone to ask the question “are they done?” Was this memorandum the epitome of the coalition and if not, what else can be done? This is where I came in. I had to work with Kevin to figure out what the Coalition wanted to do next and help them achieve this. We were told that the coalition wanted to work on enforcing this memorandum with the Trump administration as well as begin a new focus on grassroots/ local levels to build a cohesive and working relationship with communities across America. This is where my assumption and bias became realized. When I was told that I was going to be working with a coalition I assumed that everyone had the same idea on their approach to Trump’s administration and I had a bias that diversity only referred a diverse race of people. Realizing how all these assumptions I had were false opened my eyes to a more complex world and affected how I know vision my future career.
My first assumption was challenged during a coffee and conversations held at the NPCA building. Coalition members got in heated debate on if they should enforce President Obama’s memorandum to the Trump Administration directly. Some thought that the pure mention of President Obama would make Trump do the opposite just out of pure. Others saw that a former President’s memorandum should be upheld and respected and not pushed aside just because the new admiration does not find him appealing and pushed towards a direct enforcement of President Obama’s memorandum. This showed me that even though a group of people are all reaching for the same goals, it does not mean that they all have the same methods of how to get there. This pushed me in the future to always pay attention to how I conduct business and any type of outreach to ensure that I always do things that are in line with my morals, because to me, the ends do not outweigh the means.
Another coffee and conversations meeting also challenged my bias about what diversity means. Being an African American, I always saw diversity as a race issue, but I then became aware of diversity including gender, sexual orientation, and age. I now have a career goal to always strive towards diversity across the board, not just a diversity of race.
Besides working with under a great mentor and for a cause that I was passionate about, the most rewarding part of this internship was all of the fun I had in Washington DC, where my internship was located. The highlight of my summer was going to see the National Museum of African American History and Culture with my cousin, who was also interning in DC. It took me 2 separate visits to see the entire museum, but it was an indescribable feeling to walk in a Museum and finally feel a sense of heritage and belonging. When I walked through this museum this collection of pain, beauty, triumph, and culture, I finally felt that I could pin-point “who I am”. I am this collection of these stories of greatness and resilience. I felt like I belonged, and it was empowering to see how far we came, yet so far we still have to go, and I will keep this memory with me for the rest of my life.
While in DC, I also got to attend 2 Food Truck Festivals, a World Culture Festival, a Barbeque Competition, the Smithsonian Zoo, Botanical Gardens, Martin Luther King Jr’s., Lincoln, and Jefferson’s Monument, toured the Capitol Building, National Gallery of Art, spent time with family, and tasted food from all over the world. I truly had an amazing summer all while striving to diversify the conservation field. Doris Duke’s trip to DC was a success!