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Youth & Mentoring

In 2019, MENTOR Virginia released a survey to create a snapshot of mentoring needs in Virginia. Of the programs responding to the survey, 40% were located in Richmond. Higher Achievement shares that, "mentors build relationships with the same group of scholars every week through academic enrichment and personal encouragement as someone who shows up for them, believes in them, and who will stand by them as they work to secure their futures."

Reuben Davis
Reuben Davis

 

Reuben Davis
Majors: Biology

 

I think it quite serendipitous that my senior year is to end with a global pandemic. My freshman year began with an outbreak of bed bugs in my dorm. So, I guess it is only right that my senior year ends in similar fashion. I say this not to minimize the seriousness of this pandemic, or the lives it has impacted. I only mean to show how crazy of a ride this journey has been, and how blessed I am to have survived. The challenges I have faced academically, mentally, and just being a black man on this campus all have taken their toll in some way or another. Bonner is no different. However, with these challenges came a deep enrichment that has had one of the greatest impacts on my life of all my college experiences. To encapsulate that I will tell the story of my first-year capstone.

The first-year capstone is a trip taken by every new Bonner class to my hometown of Washington, DC. This trip is designed for students to engage with a specific social justice issue and deep dive into the nonprofit realm surrounding that issue. My year we chose to the topic of racism. This was rather ambitious given the seemingly endless possibilities you could explore, but our class reps did a great job planning our trip and finding great nonprofits to connect with. So, shout out to Dom and Livi. Like the classes before us, we stayed in a hostel in NW DC not too far from my old high school actually. The hostel was quaint, with worn down beds packed tightly in small rooms, and two bathrooms shared amongst 25 people. Despite all of this I don’t remember much complaining. We all just accepted our conditions and made the best of it.

The hostel, much like the design of the Bonner program, emphasized the concept of community. Living together, working together, sharing experiences, recognizing difference and bonding over that difference, and the big theme of bonding over common struggle. That last point I’m sure will resonate with my fellow Bonners. Especially as we think about how we missed out on beach week or reminisce on that great orientation lock-in that everyone misses. The common struggle of Bonners, however unintentional, has extreme importance to the program. I believe it is a humbling aspect that allows us to connect and empathize in the communities that we serve. The struggles are not the same or even comparable, but it gives us a baseline and place of reference essential for an honest connection. Bonner then takes the reference point and teaches you how to ethically connect and recognize your place in the community you serve.

Our trip happened to coincide with the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, so of course on a trip about racism we had to go. I remember it being a beautiful day and having a great deal of excitement to go to the museum for a second time and take in all that I missed. For most people it was their first time and they too shared in my excitement. Apparently, it must have been a national field trip day because as you look around all you see is a rainbow of groups in coordinated color schemes to mark the pride of their institutions and organizations. There was one particular group that stood out to us all – a group of white middle schoolers from God-knows-where wearing, with an over-abundance of white pride, bold red “Make America Great Again” caps.

We were furious, disgusted, appalled, confused, and so many other emotions by this trifling display. Every single member of that group was wearing the cap in what seemed like a coordinated strike of white supremacy targeted directly at us – a group of students studying racism and committed to social justice – and they landed a direct hit. It felt like a monumental disrespect to what this museum represented. To wear that mantra as if the long history of mistreatments were something to go back to troubled us even more. And as we stood outside in line their presence occupied our front thoughts. As we went inside and travelled around the museum it was almost like a game of spot the racist middle schoolers. Their presence was insidious and followed us all day, and back to the hostel.

If you know anything about the Bonner program you know that it is synonymous with reflection. After everything we do, all our meetings, and other events there’s usually a time of reflection. And on this day, it was welcomed and needed. We immediately dived into those middle schoolers, expressing our outrage and discontent. It’s no secret that the Bonner program tends to lean in the liberal and progressive vein so you can imagine the points of view that dominated the conversation. But the Bonner program isn’t about one point of view, and luckily for us there were some seasoned Bonners there to help us see that.

Arthur who recently graduated was in town and was there during our time of reflection. During our reflection he said something that has impacted me and changed my perception forever. He said, “I understand that you all are upset, but why is it that none of you made an attempt to speak to those kids? Everything you’re saying is speculation and you have no idea what was really going through those kids’ minds. More importantly, you don’t know how one conversation could have changed their way of thinking.” I sat there in awe of such a simple solution, but also in regret. We were so blinded by our own biases and beliefs that missed out on what could’ve been a life changing experience for all involved. Arthur also said, “Why not join them on their trip and walk around with them throughout the museum and reflect on this history and develop an understanding.” It was in this moment that my eyes were opened.

I learned so much on that trip, but that one conversation was the beginning of a chain reaction that has brought me to where I am now. That moment and my hundreds of hours of service have taught me that I am a man of service and action. I knew that I enjoyed giving and based on my family background I knew how to give, but Bonner truly taught me what service is, and what it means to be a servant of your community. I learned to listen and find the true needs of a community and not make assumptions based on my own misconceptions. I learned how to work with community partners and utilize resources. They taught me how to write a cover letter, and I honestly believe that I could run a nonprofit if I had to. I’ve learned how to communicate these issues and advocate for those who can’t do it for themselves. I could go on and on about the depth and diversity of knowledge Bonner has given me, but in short, I am eternally grateful.

Looking forward, my Bonner experience has completely changed my career goals and is what pushes me to become a physician. I chose this path because as a physician I believe that I can maximize my ability to serve, from 1:1 interaction with patients to affecting public health policy to improve the well-being of disadvantaged communities. This time of global crisis emphasizes that point as disadvantaged communities are being hit the hardest. It is evident how my Bonner experience has prepared me for that role giving me the tools I will need to be successful. Therefore, I must reiterate the serendipitous nature of this pandemic as it not only serves as a mark of an ending, but more importantly a mark of a beginning.

Matt Holyst
Matt Holyst

 

Matt Holyst
Majors: Business Administration & Leadership Studies

 

Melding Multiple Identities Through Service

At the beginning of my Bonner journey, I came in with the conception that service was a part of me that I did separate from the other parts of my life. These other parts of my life, in high school and especially college, were my academics and my work. Since mid to late high school I had my mind made up that I wanted to study business management and that I wanted to eventually work in consulting. It was this steadfast determination that led to some good things no doubt, but that certainly closed my mind to the intersection of service and for-profit work. In my mind, business and the goals I had for my career were a separate objective than the service work I completed in high school and hoped to continue through the Bonner program.

I can distinctly remember starting my freshman year excited about the program, but nervous about the summer service requirements. How was I going to reconcile non-profit service with this conception of the type of work I needed to be doing to prepare myself for this “for-profit” goal I had set? I remember at least a dozen phone calls with my parents in mid to late spring where I pointlessly agonized, as it seems many Richmond freshmen do, over the fact that I didn’t have an internship for that summer. I had become so absorbed in this idea that I needed to find a prestigious internship that fit with an image and idea I had for myself that I had completely lost sight of the fact that I had an amazing opportunity to have a funded summer of experience just about anywhere and doing just about anything.

Through a winding path, I ultimately found myself in San Antonio working for the Small Business Development Corporation of Texas in a department that provided advisory services for small business owners. After working with small business owners around the city for a few weeks, and learning more about consulting and business in general than I could have imagined upon starting, I noticed a strange phenomenon: the melding of the idea of for-profit and non-profit business in my mind. I realized that the work I doing was probably more hands on and consulting-esque than any for profit internship that I could have found, but this, as I’d later realize, was not the most important takeaway. What was most important was not what this experience was providing for me from a technical perspective, but the fact that I, subconsciously really, started to mold my two identities together – the for-profit and the service conceptions I had of myself coming together to create a more whole person.

I returned to campus invigorated, and afire with thoughts about how I could continue to use business and my skills for social good. I ended up interning at a boutique consulting firm during my sophomore summer, and, in what seemed like the perfect culmination of this melding of two identities, I had the opportunity to complete a pro-bono consulting project pitching to the CEO of a for-profit company in the food manufacturing space a recommendation around how their organization could help combat hunger in Greater Richmond. This involved much more of an understanding of the non-profit and service space in Richmond than it did consulting (or whatever my idea of “consulting” was at that point), however.

The project involved working with the Center for Civic Engagement to tap their network, my service site Mentor Virginia, Bonner National, and many other gracious individuals from around the country. It wasn’t until talking to each of these stakeholders that I realized just how extensive the Bonner program was, and how much I’d enmeshed myself in service during my two short years in Richmond. It had truly become part of my identity and my fabric as a person. This learning was more important than any recommendation I could provide, and while the recommendation came out well due to the selflessness and help of many along the journey, I gained perspective and understanding well outside of the scope of the project that I never thought I would. In this way, I not only linked business and non-profit work, but I began the process of understanding my role in civic engagement and how this newly forming identity would manifest itself as I finished my journey at Richmond and prepared to start a new one.

The learnings and experiences above, and the many that I don’t have the space to list here, have shaped me in innumerable ways. I realize now, as I conclude both my Richmond career and my Bonner career, that the growth I experienced across these four years is not something neat or quantifiable. While the above may be an example of one place where I experienced growth and the richening of my character and penchant for service, there are a litany of other experiences which Bonner, my service sites, my summer service, my fellow Bonner’s, and the Richmond community have provided me.

It has been both a humbling and overwhelming experience to sit down and recount all of the experiences I’ve had as a Bonner over these four years. Memories come flooding back, and there is certainly a paradox in the ability to recount these individual memories and cite how they may have impacted me without understanding fully the way they shaped my character and led to such a titanic shift in the way I perceive, interact with, and understand the world.

No essay will be able to fully encompass how I have benefitted from the program, and the changes I’ve experienced as a result. What this exercise in self-reflection, and the program more generally, has taught me is this: embrace the uncertain. When you try to prescribe a notion of the way a thing should be, and use experiences as ends, you’ll miss out. It is when you go into anything, whether it be service or life more generally, with a sense of receptiveness and an acceptance of the uncertain is when you learn the most. I hope to carry this with me after my time in Bonner, and if I ever seem to stray from such a mentality I will try to take the time to slow down and remember where I learned it. Our time may have been cut short, but the lessons we take from it surely shouldn’t be.

Destiny Pryor
Destiny Pryor

 

Destiny Pryor
Major: Biology

 

STEM and Social Justice

As a graduating senior, my University of Richmond experience can be simply put- it has been life-changing. It has been filled with many lessons and blessings that I will carry into my future academics and civic engagement. Shortly after being accepted into the university, I was accepted into the Bonner Scholars Program. Being civically involved and socially aware were steps that I took before college, but I had no idea of the many opportunities that this program was going to provide me with for the years to come. Completing the application was the first step. The steps moving onward would include patience, strength, and weakness, and open-mindedness. I paced myself so that I could be successful with future endeavors, but also receptive to any failures that I could potentially face. The Bonner Scholars Program has taught and challenged me in ways that I never knew were possible. I have learned to hold myself and my peers accountable, active listening, and self-confidence. Through volunteering with the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond at the Delmont Learning Center, the weekly Bonner 101 and 102 meetings, the endless reflections, and my tenure as a Student Program Associate, I proudly take on the responsibility of influencing the people around me and strengthening the community that I call my own.

Being a minority from the City of Richmond, I have faced many hardships throughout my life - including homelessness, food insecurity, and government assistance. These hardships were able to affect me in ways that I may not even be aware of, but I refused to allow them to define me and my future. As my family and myself fought hard to overcome these struggles, it only opened my eyes to those who are currently in those situations and those that will be in the future. It saddens me, but I know that it is reality. Escaping these truths is extremely difficult. But being an individual stuck in those circumstances makes recovery feel impossible. As a child in those situations, I relied heavily on my single mother, who I now know, had very few people to rely on herself. Watching the strongest woman I know struggle hurt more than any obstacle that I could be faced with. My mother instilled in me to always do the right things because blessings are always returned to those who do and to never forget where I come from. The constant thought of my past undoubtedly shaped my future. I was able to conclude that a college education would be my ticket to success and that I was the only person who could stand in my way. I knew that I not only needed to take my education seriously, but I needed to take full advantage of opportunities to learn and grow into the civically engaged scholar that I knew I could be.

While mentoring my favorite little scholars, waymakers, and innovators at the Delmont Learning Center, I was able to see myself in many of them. We shared more similarities than we did differences. Being raised in a single-parent household, relying on government assistance, and the fear of the unknown are just to name a few. The feelings of insecurity and doubt are written all over their innocent faces. The discomfort with strangers coming in to “help” was extremely difficult to ignore. Since I was once a student who was mentored through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I relied on my experiences to make sure I was being welcomed into the personal spaces of my mentees. I did not want to approach them as if I was entering their lives to change or save it and I did not want to seem like a know-it-all. As much as I was there to teach them, I was also there to learn from them. Children have the ability to teach us all honesty and patience, especially the students at the Delmont Learning Center. They use their wit and sharp-mindedness for good, and even bad. One thing that the students do not know that they taught me is that I am privileged. Even though I would have argued this in the past, it is very clear that I am a privileged individual.

As an African-American woman studying Biology on the hills of this beautiful campus, I am privileged. As a Bonner Scholar, I am privileged. As a student on a full-ride scholarship, I am privileged. As a person who receives prepared meals, heat and air conditioning, and free shuttle rides, I am privileged. My teenage-self may not have been able to foresee this label, but my young adult self can not disregard it. Attending college is an opportunity that many will not be gifted with. That alone, has made me incredibly thankful. Accepting the title “privileged” has come with many questions that I ask myself. How can I use it to change my life, the lives of those around me, and how can I create opportunities for those in the future? I have noticed that some University of Richmond students who volunteer at the learning center can ignore their privilege or they truly believe they do not have any. Even though I can be a quiet person, I had to be vocal for the Delmont students who could not voice this and for my younger self who was once in their shoes. My definition of privilege has shifted from meaning one that is harmfully powerful, but to one that is endlessly influential.

Being a Bonner Scholar and a Biology major, my civic focus has narrowed down to solving social justice issues, such as food insecurity and racial prejudices, with STEM solutions. My passion was secured through my academic research since the Spring 2017 semester and my summer internship with the MathScience Innovation Center. As I studied the health effects that those who live in developing countries experience because of their limited access to food, electricity, and healthcare, I was able to make the connection of health and education. My daily tasks in the research lab consisted of me growing and treating mice cells with inflammation-inducing chemicals and testing the anti-inflammatory effects of chemicals found in red grapes, broccoli, and green tea. However, my long-term goal is to raise awareness about healthy living and how resource access has the power to change that. The same systemic forces that are present in Indonesia and Bangladesh are present in our Richmond community. It is our civic duty to not only have an open dialogue regarding these issues, but to seek solutions that will have lasting effects beyond our time.

In classes such as The Science of Poisoning, taught by Dr. Shannon Jones, we were able to learn advanced cell biology through the lens of the Flint Water Crisis and the minorities that were disproportionately affected. Through individual and group assignments for this class, I discovered that there was a similar crisis in Richmond. Even though I have lived here my entire life, I do not remember any attention being brought to such a dangerous situation. My academic privilege has shaped my civic outreach in ways that I did not know would happen. I was able to spend an entire summer as an Associate Teacher with a group of seventh graders that were eager to change the world. The instructor that I worked alongside allowed me to design the curriculum of the seven week long program and I used this as an opportunity to introduce the students to social justice issues, such as the ones previously mentioned, and allowed them to come up with the STEM solutions. It caught me by surprise one day when one of my students questioned whether I knew what a food desert was. I immediately thought of my time as a Bonner Scholar and ruined their surprise of a future fieldtrip. I planned for our group to travel to the neighborhoods of Carytown and Brookland Park Boulevard, meet several business owners, and to compare and contrast the environments. In addition to the free snacks and pets they got to meet, my students expressed gratitude for being introduced into communities that they had never heard of. They were respectful of one another as students shared personal anecdotes and fears. When we returned to the classroom, the students quickly got busy with attempting to make the resources equitable throughout both communities. They mentioned an increase in social media usage, grocery stores access, and the public artwork. Incorporating STEM, which now is called STEAM, with the addition of art, was easier for the students once they were front and center in the areas around them. I cherished the ideas that they created and promised to them that we could each change our own communities one day and step at a time.

My past civic engagement has encouraged me to never stop and has allowed me to get creative with my approach. I do not always need to be the one to make the change, I can inspire the person who will. The personal development that I have acquired has been a combination of the successes, losses, and reattempts over the past four years. I have improved as a student, scholar, volunteer, mentor, and citizen. I will now only look forward in hopes of bettering myself and generations to come. I want to apply my experiences in the communities to the advancements I will make in the classroom and laboratory. My science skills must be supported by my civic engagement passion. I simply can not thank the University and Bonner Scholars Program enough! #BonnerLove