As some of you know, last July I went on a PULSE assignment at The Food Trust working on Get Hype Philly! which is a citywide initiative promoting positive youth development in Philly and empowers youth as leaders to live healthier lives and create healthier communities. This volunteer experience became a point in my life in where I now categorize life as pre and post. I know everyone has these moments that split your life in to two. Critical turning points in time where everything changes. The moment you fell in love, when you figure out your life passion, became a parent, suffered a significant failure, lost a loved one. These moments that tint your memories, shift your perspective, and you label your life pre and post. You have gone through something that has changed you in a way you can never go back to the person you once were. Having children is one of those clear pre and posts for me. One story that makes me laugh remembering how little I knew was when I was pregnant with my first son James and was going for my doctorate. I thought this is great timing – I will be off for 6 months and have so much free time to write my dissertation – anyone with children knows newborns, free time, and writing an intense data rich paper is laughable. I remember calling my advisor asking for a leave of absence until I was able to get through the newborn fog phase. While I always find humor in that – the reality is my perspective changed. What was important before, was less important and vice versa. I define things differently and interpret situations differently.
And while I have so many unforgettable moments from my PULSE volunteer opportunity, it was not out with the youth but in an unexpected place that the most significant shift happened. At the time, I started my PULSE assignment, there had been a lot of police shootings of unarmed black men, the presidential race was heating up, and since The Food Trust is both racially diverse but focuses its effort on underserved communities where many of these types of incidents occurred – they decided to have a racial tension training. When I heard that, all I wanted to do was run. I did NOT want to be in a training room talking about race at a personal level – also this is only week two working here – I basically do not know anyone beyond the polite hello.
I paused and thought if I really want to take advantage of this opportunity, than I need to be vulnerable and stretch outside my comfort zone. So I walk in and notice the room is set up in a u-shape. Anyone who enters a u-shape room knows that there is nowhere to hide and this is going to be highly interactive. In front is Dr. Riana who is going to facilitate the discussion. During one discussion, a mom, Brianna, told the story of when she found out she was having a son she cried. Her son happens to be the same age as my son, James. She then went on to say why she cried. She now has to worry about how he acts outside. She has to tell him not to be loud. He is not allowed to play with toy guns. If an officer ever approaches him, she has to teach him to behave in a certain manner. He is not allowed to wear hoodies. And the reason is because he is black. My mind raced – I remembered celebrating having a boy. Boys are loud, playful, and energetic and to take that away from a child was heartbreaking. To see another mom sad over a moment that I celebrated made me realize how unaware I am of social injustices and how much I still needed to learn. It also made me realize that privileges I may think are basic for all – are not. This is when I understood the definition of white privilege.
After that training, I don’t see the world the same way that I did before that day. A lot of the things that seemed abstract to me before I see as all too personal to people who I truly care about. I carry that forward with me every day. Not just the words that I heard, but in my actions I bring back to GSK.
Volunteering can change you and often in unexpected ways. And that change does not need to be a six month PULSE opportunity, it can be as simple as giving your talents for a day to a non-profit. While I was working at The Food Trust I was provided the opportunity to match talented GlaxoSmithKline people with opportunities at The Food Trust. In simple but powerful ways; Stephanie Trotter gave her time to provide coaching to the executive director. And Jennifer Baxter provided training on having difficult conversations to an entire group of employees. They brought their specialized talents provided an exceptional amount of value and ultimately helped The Food Trust in achieving their mission. Whether it is skills based volunteering like Stephanie and Jen or getting involved in STEM activities or going on PULSE – all types of volunteering can change you and at a minimum provide a rejuvenating change to your daily work.
I know I said that PULSE was a moment that split my life in two, but maybe that’s not exactly right – my life is definitely not the same as it was before meeting Brianna, but my life, my perspective isn’t halved, it’s doubled now, and I would never go back to the way I was before. And I have GSK, PULSE, my department US Pharma SP&O, and volunteering to thank for that.
Picture of me, Brianna, and my favorite others (Nadine, J’Net, Tacora, and Rhonda) months later!