A Letter to My Girls

To my cherished Moxies:

writing handI have typed and retyped; backspaced and deleted, and here remains the raw sentiment that comes closest to expressing my thankfulness for your participation in this experience with me.  Each of you have incited in me some form of personal growth, and for that, you deserve thanks.  So here is your thank you, your shout out, and your fifteen seconds of blogospheric fame.  Here is my letter of appreciation to all of you, though I’m sure these simple words will not really suffice.

To my lovely roommate Kristie:

Thank you for being so openly you.  We laughed about our strange habits and cracked the corniest jokes.  You taught me that being myself is just fine, and for that too, I thank you.

To my outrageous suitemate Ngozi:

Thank you for being so nurturing.  Never have I been so convinced or encouraged to take a chance, and without your (often fanatical) advice, I would not have arrived at this point.  So thank you for being there for me always—I can’t imagine how the summer would have gone without you.

To my friendly inspiration Melanie:

Thank you for being so kind.  I feel so happy to have met you and heard about your diverse experiences at Duke and your strong affinity for breadbaskets.  You showed me a lot about what it means to be a good friend and person, and I can’t wait to reunite in the fall.

To my knowledgeable buddy Maya:

Thank you for being so accepting!!  I never doubted whether or not I could talk to you about anything.  You really showed me the value in being open-minded, and I look up to you in so many different ways.

To my ambitious role model Vannelli:

Thank you for being so enthusiastic.  Your multi-dimensional excellence inspires me to strive for continuous improvement in every area of my life.  I’m so pleased to be able to call you a friend, and I thank you so much for your character and the brilliance in all that you do.

To my fun-loving friend Gracie:

Thanks for being so honest and approachable!  Conversing with you was always both rewarding and entertaining.  You were always there to laugh with me or offer a quick lesson about current events.  In short, thanks for being awesome.  I could always count on you for that.

To my loving and open Brianna:

I’m sure you know I can’t describe our friendship in a few short sentences, but I guess I’ll strike the tip of the iceberg by thanking you for your sincerity and determination in every single thing that you do.  I appreciate you and look up to you, and I’m really excited to continue our friendship in the future.

To my fellow freshman Lorena:

Thank you for being so friendly! You were always up for anything and I knew that we could always chat. As the only two sophomores we had a bond, and I appreciated that throughout the summer.

And to my soul sister Sarah:

Thank you so much for being my big sis, for mentoring me in so many ways, and for consistently encouraging me to do the right thing.  You are so talented and wise, and I feel like I will grow so much simply from being your friend.

Of course I’d also like to thank Ada and Anna Marie, our kind and fearless leaders who worked tirelessly to ensure that we Moxies had an entirely enriching experience this summer.  Similarly, I’d like to thank our commentators and everyone who reads our blogs, like Nancy, Christy, and especially my new pal Vic.  I’m grateful to all of you, and so appreciative of everything you’ve done.  Thank you so much for such a remarkable summer.  Surely, it will not be forgotten.

Only Three Things Matter

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you.”

In a recent discussion with a fellow Moxie, this quote surfaced as an inspiration to reflect on during approaching hardships.  Though the quote seems pretty straightforward, I could hear the phrasing calling for a deeper analysis.   Submitting to this call, I had a few realizations, and I find that they relate very much to my Moxie experience thus far.

How Much You Loved—

love yourselfAt times I forget that expressions of external love are largely reliant on the internal love one feels for his/her/themselves.  There are innumerable circumstances in which behavior can be affected by self-love, including social situations like parties, intellectual environments like university, and sexual settings like the notoriously ambiguous “hook-up.”  ”In the end” what will matter is not only how much you loved others, but also how much you loved yourself.  During Moxie, “loving myself” has included small responsibilities, such as respecting my own opinion enough to speak up and not being so critical of myself when I don’t understand a topic we discuss.

How Gently You Lived—

It’s easy to think about the typical definitions of non-violence in this case, like ones that preach peace and reject physical confrontation. If you think on it, though, living gently includes knowing yourself well enough to engage with others.  When you live gently by knowing yourself, small things that offend you less.  You no longer enter into situations that are particularly trying or futile, such as heated discussions with people you know to be close-minded.  In addition, you avoid internal turmoil by recognizing the way you think about things and evaluating your opinions based on this knowledge.  During Moxie, my “living gently” has included practicing open-mindedness and committing to engage in weekly reflections in order to learn as much as I can about myself.

How Gracefully You Let Go of the Things Not Meant for You—

This is the most difficult of the three things in that one first must gain the insight to recognize when things are no longer good for him/her/them and then summon the courage to let these things go.  These “things” can include anything such as viewpoints, traditions or ideologies; diets, old shoes or old friends.  I think that realizing when such things are not meant for you happens when you become troubled by the thought of keeping them.  During Moxie, “gracefully letting go” has mostly included realizing the things that trouble me to hold on to.  The next step for me, then, is gaining the courage and wisdom to let go.

I’ll Take the High Road…You Can Follow if You’d Like

Mental BattleI think it’s about time I publicly address the tumultuous (mental) battle between church and state.  As a Christian and ardent supporter of human rights, I often find it difficult to strike a balance between popular opinion and “the words of the Lord” (Psalm 12:6).  Of course, the latter are open to interpretation, which makes them especially difficult to discern in the midst of such pressing political pressures.  For a Christian like me, the easiest way to escape this discomfort is to model our legal system after the archaic text of the Bible, making hard and fast rules despite their possible irrelevancy to the modern world. However, that’s doesn’t seem to be the appropriate method of resolution.  That type of rule making binds itself to nationalism, intolerance, and oppression, none of which are of God.  There must be a better way.

Church_StateSo, as a body of believers, Church, what are we left to do?  Shan’t we endeavor to protect the country from falling to pieces?  Must we fight to block the path to unrighteousness to ensure the moral well being of our fellow citizens?  Well, good idea, but no.  In our rush to block the “low road,” some of us have created unnecessary strife and encouraged a following of radicals who misrepresent our faith (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church).   Let us go about our attempt at godliness in a different way.  Just as the Father granted us free will, we should mirror such grace in the law.  During my time considering the moral repercussions of catering the legal system to a modern audience, I came across a quote; “You are free to choose.  You are not free from the consequences of your choice.”  Who are we to dictate the consequences of an impersonal, ‘venial sin’ like homosexuality?  That is for God to handle.  As for us, we can grant the freedom to choose.  That is closer to godliness.

GraceI understand, Church, that it is difficult to align oneself with faithless people who are fighting for the same end, be they in popular political matters or in the details of everyday life.  Despite this difficulty, we should still realize that our attempts to close the low road do not keep people from taking it.  Rather than forcing people to take the high road, we should invite them to do so by representing it well.  We should focus on taking the high road ourselves. Eventually people may see our good faith and imitate, but perhaps they will not.  We cannot force people to do what they don’t want to.  And we, better than anyone, should know that.

3 Ways to Tell You’re a Bumbling Social Worker

Poor Thing.

You’re trying, you’re sighing, and you’re even crying.

But for some reason you just can’t get through. Why not?

If in addition to your sniffling you are doing any combination of the following things, you are doing your job incorrectly.

I’ll preface this post by noting that I know almost nothing about social work; I am merely an unpaid intern who has undergone a week of lengthy trainings alongside other rising professionals in the field.  Therefore, my advice should be taken with a grain of salt.  Nonetheless, I feel as though I have gained valuable knowledge from my week of training, and I am more than willing to share this newly acquired information with all of you.

We as humans have the capacity to empathize with others, to take on their feelings and circumstances as if they were our own.  Though as a social worker you are obviously equipped with this ability, it is not your job to use it.  I repeat: IT IS NOT YOUR JOB TO EMPATHIZE WITH THE CLIENT.  I know you may have heard otherwise, but consider the negative repercussions of such an impassioned bond.  Assuming you understand a person who doesn’t feel as though you do can lead to unnecessary strife.  The foundations of a good social-worker client relationship are built on cultural competency, rapport, and a shared understanding of the relationship. That said, it is nearly impossible to attain such a connection if:

1.    You refuse to acknowledge your beliefs and biases.

  • Many people make the mistake of assuming that because they do not define themselves as a “racist,” “sexist,” or any umbrella term of the like, they do not harbor any preconceived notions based on an individual’s identity.  The first step to understanding a culture different from your own is acknowledging the difference.  This variance is complicated by your own personal beliefs, which may take some courage to confront.  That said, be compassionate with yourself when these biases crop up, because no one can truly exist without belief in something, nor should he/she want to.  We are human, after all.

2.    You remain ignorant about the client’s culture.

  • It’s one thing to be ignorant, but it’s another to be aware of your ignorance and continue in your lack of knowledge.  A client may come to session extremely disagreeable and unwilling to cooperate.  He/she may refuse to comply with your “safety plan” and threaten to return to a dangerous situation.  However, the problem may be you, not them.  If you continue to suggest solutions contrary to the client’s culture/beliefs, you will continue to struggle in the relationship.  A good way to get to know your clients better is to ask them questions.  How does your family do this?  Would it be acceptable for you to do this?  In this situation, how would you respond? Be creative.  No question is too small.

3.    You feel yourself more responsible for the client’s welfare than the client him/herself.

  • This one is pretty self-explanatory.  You are not responsible for the client’s well being.  He/she is.  You are responsible with providing them ideas for safety, and sometimes catering to their legal/psychological needs, but you are not responsible for their happiness.  Clients have to be responsible too.

Keeping these things in mind, you can really begin to work for effective change.  My observations have suggested that the social services work best when those in a position of power are logical, detached, and unemotional.  Though the empathetic impulse may come in handy in some situations, it may not always be effectual.  Challenge yourself to be more than a social worker—be an efficient catalyst for change.



A is for Amber

Amber is a rising sophomore interning at the Bronx Family Justice Center.

flashcard“What is this letter?”


“Chipaw, this letter right here, which one is it?”


“Is it A? It’s A right?”

She looked away.

“Can you say A? A. Ayyy. A.” I tapped the card and tucked it behind Z.

She turned to me, her eyes hard and glassy. It was as though her expression mocked the flashcards, challenging, “How can these letters have any significance in the face of the pain I have endured?”

She was a refugee. Emaciated—no teeth, no voice, and a steely glare.

This time I was silent.  What could I do but gaze back?


My name is Amber Black and I’m from Olmsted Falls, OH.  I’m a nineteen-year-old rising sophomore, and my academic interests include English, Spanish, Psychology, and gender and racial disparities. In my first semester at Duke, I worked to educate newly resettled refugees.  This exchange last September was the first time I felt the weight of what it meant to be a woman.  Although the two of us were not communicating with language, I felt the pain and despair of her oppression.  As I gripped the flashcards, I realized I really wanted to help her and others in similar circumstances. I could only hope that I would someday be able to do so.

Of course, I leaped at the chance to advocate for women with DukeEngage. This summer, I’ll be working with the Bronx Family Justice Center, where I’ll interact with both women and children who have been directly affected by domestic violence.  The BXFJC is a haven that not only provides services to battered women and their families, but also works closely with its legal contacts to prevent such crime from occurring so regularly.  While I’m elated that the Moxie Project has provided me such an extraordinary opportunity, I wonder about a few things:

  • Is there such a thing as a conservative feminist? I wonder how conservative views fit into such a liberal movement.  Is there a place for super traditional or conservative individuals to work for the betterment of women without abandoning their stance?
  • Am I even a feminist? I don’t know much about the modern movement, and I am unsure whether or not my recent urge to help women classifies me as a feminist.
  • How will this experience change my academic ventures in the future? I am completely open to anything.  If I see something that convinces me to change courses, I’ll go with it.  I wonder if that will happen this summer.

All in all, I’d say my prevailing emotion is nervousness.  I’m so excited to participate, but I just want to do a good job.  I want to learn, I want to help, and I want to enjoy the experience. I look forward to an ambitious and remarkable summer.