April 27, 2017  |  Boston & Cambridge Civic Engagement

LaShaunda Gayden

My expectation of the [Citizen University] conference was that I would learn to be more of an active citizen. I was so angry about the presidential election and at a loss for what I, or anyone, could do differently. We won! We didn’t lose, but HE is still president? How could this be? Millions more people voted against him, yet HE is in the office. How did my vote count? Why should I continue to vote? THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO! Hopeless. Or so I thought.

From the moment I arrived, Citizen University (CU) altered my disparaging thought process. The 2017 theme was “Reckoning and Repair in America” — the first word and thought that came to my mind while registering was “equal”. I did not feel, nor was I treated like a subsidized participant. Rather I was treated the same — the same as all attendees in spite of their profession or fame. Whole.

I completely pre-judged the CU audience. I expected it to be an overwhelmingly minority population from urban communities. But there we were, a well-rounded complement of races, nationalities, sexualities and creeds. Many were Seattleites.

I’ve attended many conferences before, but never one that was on the pulse of every social injustice in the current public limelight. Immigration, police brutality, race inequity, and even school lunch.

I am an unrelenting political junky so when I saw one of my political idols, Heather McGhee, on the program, I could hardly believe I would have this opportunity to meet her. I still did not think I would have a chance to meet her, but the conference was set up as a community. Once again, everyone was treated as equal. Famous presenters participated just as we regular folk further cultivating the feeling that you, he, she, and I too, are important, and that a person’s identity does not dismiss one’ s responsibility to active citizenship.

Heather was more impressive in person than on MSNBC as she recounted her personal experience converting a racist into a friend — a story that went viral across social media. The conference was so thoughtful — not only were breaking topics addressed, they were addressed by fearless advocates known nationally for their fight against their respective injustice plights. Jose Antonio Vargas, whom I just saw on Bill Maher last week, was there giving us no less passion than he gave to Bill Maher’s audience regarding illegal immigration and deportation. Brittany Packnett, known for advocacy against police brutality and a creator of Campaign Zero, a plan To reduce police violence, also presented. Carrie Mae Weems gave a heart- wrenching salute to victims of violence. Jeremy Haile, co-author of the Indivisible Guide and co-founder of the Indivisible Project, was also there, guiding us towards how we can be impactful politics at our local level.

This experience really pointed me in the direction I wanted. As I learn more from Indivisible Boston, I aim to join others who will not sleep during the next four years. Rather, we will use our power to influence congress to do their jobs on behalf of us and not their own self-interests.

"CU [Citizen University] made me leave feeling HOPEFUL and EMPOWERED."

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