Serving in the inaugural class of Active Voice Fellows was the opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to work under the guidance of two mentors who’ve grown to be dear to me, Stephanie Leibert and Frank LoMonte, along with four young women who are bright and determined. The Active Voice, in many ways, taught me that I have a voice and the power to influence change.
I think one of the greatest lessons this fellowship taught me is that I can accomplish any goal I put my mind to. When I was told I had to create my own project, I was nervous. I didn’t think I had what it takes to get high school kids to attend my activity. At the time, I was also a resident assistant to upperclassman and graduate students, so it was almost impossible to get them to attend programs. I think that contributed to my nerves as well.
It was a wonderful experience teaching high school students in the D.C. area about their First Amendment rights. Most of the students did not know a student bill of rights existed to protect them in school which I found interesting since they live in the nation’s capital.
A funny tidbit about me, when I was first selected, I couldn’t figure out why our fellowship was called The Active Voice. When friends and family asked me about the name, I said I’d figure it out eventually.
My favorite part of this project was seeing students get involved during the workshops. Teenagers tend to act like they’re “too cool for school,” but I learned that with the right incentives, they are always willing to participate.
I remember the countless phone calls I had with Stephanie about how I thought I was going to fail. She always knew just what to say to keep me on track and encouraged me to keep working. Then I remember sending pictures and calling her afterwards to say how proud I was of my event and the students.
My first event was at the Newseum. I was invited to speak to students who already had a demonstrated interest in journalism. It was also nice to be invited to speak, it eliminated some of my anxiety of bringing students to me.
I held my second program in the Howard University School of Communications. Just my luck, I was given a classroom with a whiteboard so I wasn’t able to use my PowerPoint presentation or play the online game I created for the kids. It was also pouring rain on the evening of the program. I remember thinking the whole thing would be doomed.
When I walked into the classroom to set up, some students were already there waiting to meet me. One student, who I met at my first workshop, came as well. He was the first person to arrive. He taught me that even if you only impact one person, you’ve already made a difference. Words can’t express how happy I was to see a returner.
Eventually, the classroom was packed. There were no leftover seats and all of the snacks I brought were gone.
The funniest moment during this program was when I looked down to read my quiz question and looked up to a sea of raised hands. I was so impressed at how interested the students were.
I remember when I was talking with Stephanie about what topic I wanted to focus on. I had so many ideas. When we finally agreed that First Amendment rights was the winner, I remember just hoping I wouldn’t regret it later on. I never did regret it. In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t finalize my program sooner and host more events.
I was able to tie First Amendment rights with civil rights and racial equality. I talked about controversies with professional athletes and the Black Lives Matter movement. I talked about why we as a minority especially need to know our rights and used real life examples of police brutality and injustice. I was able to teach the students about their rights in a way that really reached them.
When a student asks to stay in contact with you or asks to take the worksheet from the lesson with them, you know the subject hit home. I can’t thank Stephanie enough for her guidance throughout this process. I couldn’t have done it without her.
The Active Voice taught me to just go for things, even when I’m technically not qualified or nervous for the challenges ahead. It taught me to be bold and try new things, like speak on a panel or put on my teacher hat. Being part of the inaugural class taught me that I can succeed at something without following someone else’s footsteps. Before this experience, I would always want to see how someone else got to where I wanted to be. I’d second guess my every move and seek validation from others before making a decision. Now, thanks to Stephanie’s words and my experience, I know I don’t need anyone’s approval to make my own choices. The Active Voice helped me find my voice and stay true to myself. I finally figured out what it means to have an active voice.
Darlene Aderoju was a fellow of the inaugural class of The Active Voice. Darlene brought the Washington, D.C. Student Bill of Rights to the attention of high school students, as part of a larger effort to teach them about the First Amendment.