Carolina Samayoa, Pell University Fellow, 2019-20
Whenever a chapter in our lives ends, we always want to look back and think about all the things we learned and accomplished. But when I think of the last eight months as a Pell University Fellow, I look forward. I look forward to the doors that have opened mentally and physically. I look forward to the present where I can use everything I have learned as a Fellow to be a better, kinder social justice educator and historian. I look forward to the future, to a time when I can reunite with staff members and the other Fellows and finally hug them.
This year was unique. In mid-March we were forced to take our responsibilities home and work remotely as a result of COVID-19 and San Francisco’s Stay At Home Order. It was the first time most of us had to work and teach online, let alone use Zoom— but we did it. We managed to run Next Chapter meetings online, taking lessons and survivor testimony to a new platform. [The Next Chapter is an introduction to the Holocaust for teens.] We had to find creative ways to collaborate and engage with each other and students. It forced us into the unknown but we continued to serve our students. We expanded our reach and we moved into a new normal. I was immensely grateful for our team— for Penny’s [Program Coordinator] readiness to prepare and lead survivors in their testimonies, for Morgan’s (Director, JFCS Holocaust Center] reassurance and advice, for Leslie’s [Director of Community Education] laugh and infectious happiness, for Christy’s immense passion for knowledge, for Jessica’s joy and friendship, and Yedida’s [Director of Community Education] constant mentorship and support. Even across a screen, this was a community.
The work I was able to do and the people I met as a University Fellow will follow me wherever I go. I learned every day— from JFCS staff around the Bay Area, from Holocaust Center staff, from other Fellows, and especially from our Next Chapter students. I was challenged every day. I remember telling Jessica, another Fellow, how I started off feeling like an imposter; it is not a unique feeling for women-identifying people of color. We often feel that we are not deserving of the opportunities we have been given, that there must be some mistake and that we surely are not in the right space. But working alongside Yedida and the rest of the staff, I was seen. My experiences, my passion for teaching and history, my love for youth was seen and given a platform. Being a University Fellow has given me the tools and resources to be an non-optical ally and has prepared me to do the work for social justice education. Being able to co- teach the Next Chapter San Francisco group with Yedida gave me the hope that our generation and future generations will be a community of socially responsible individuals capable of taking on the necessary challenges. Together we will help heal our world. They heard and engaged with the voices of the past and now they will be the voices of the future.
I am grateful for every teaching and learning opportunity, for the resources, for the support, and for the encouragement I was given during my time at the JFCS Holocaust Center. I now take everything and look forward . My next steps will be informed by all the knowledge and skills I acquired as a University Fellow. I will continue to learn, teach, and inspire.
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For more information about the University Fellowship, please contact Yedida Kanfer, Director of Programming, at [email protected] or 415-449-3748.