From the Big Apple to Sportsman’s Paradise

Last Friday, around 11PM, I was frantically throwing things into either a suitcase or a trashcan. I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t sleep because I needed to be up by 3AM anyways to catch my flight.

This Friday, around 11PM, I am sitting at our kitchen counter, drinking tea, and only rushing to meet the deadline for this blog post. I adjusted to the fast pace life of New York City, but I also quickly adjusted back to the slow pace life in Louisiana.

In New York City, surrounded by my fellow Moxies, we had conversations of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and every type of -ism you could think of. In Louisiana, I witness and live those -isms every day.

Before experiencing the Moxie program and New York City, I knew that these -isms existed everywhere, but I don’t think I was equipped with the necessary scholarly literature as well as discussions to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I had grown up around these things, so they seemed normal to me, until this summer.

This summer turned the normal to unnormal. It made conversations harder to participate in without pointing out someone’s biases or trying to understand why they thought the way they did.

To be honest, I had to catch myself from making this face multiple times before going on a rant about neoliberalism or identity politics or how the way our society is set up is not all rainbows and butterflies. Shocker. This summer made me hyperaware of all of the injustices that take place everywhere – not just certain communities or the deep south.

This summer also taught me about the importance of integrating experiences with what you can learn in a classroom. An individual with an infinite amount of abbreviations behind their name can explain all of the struggles within our society, but it isn’t until you fully immerse yourself within a specific community do you truly understand what is going on.

At Brooklyn Defender Services, the work I did sitting at my desk was just as equally important as when I would interact with individuals; however, it’s the interactions that have stuck with me. It was the seeing lawyers day in and day out fighting for the best for the clients and their clients struggling to navigate and unjust justice system that will remain with me.

I can’t provide you with a step by step plan on how I plan to integrate my Moxie experience into my life at home or at Duke. There is still some unpacking, both literally and figuratively, that has to take place. I can confidently say, though, that Moxie has impacted my view of not only the world I live in, but how I function within those spaces.

Stranger to Friend?

Our group has always had thought-provoking discussions, whether it was at seminar on the readings we have to do for that week or at reflection dinner when we debrief on the various enrichment outings we do. Recently, our conversations have been going far beyond the surface for various reasons.

Being past the half-way mark means that we have had ample time to get to know each other both personally and how each one of us feels about different societal structures. Because of this, people are more inclined to share their opinions in order to grow further. But it’s not only the sharing of ideas that has progressed as time has passed; it’s the bonds that we have made in such a short time.

Prior to departure, Ada and Shannan held several pre-departure meetings that, if I’m being honest, I did not want to attend because of all of the stress that was going on with the semester closing. In hindsight, these meetings were an integral part of forming the community we have.

Looking at a picture of our Moxie group, it’s evident that each one of us comes from not only a different background, but a different part of Duke. One girl is a part of Duke Student Broadcasting. Another is part of an Indian dance group. Two girls are in Panhellenic sororities. One girl is a student-athlete. Some girls are pre-med, while others are studying the humanities. Despite all of these differences, the cohesion our group has is something indescribable.

During one reflection dinner, Ada and Shannan stated that they purposefully picked people who both fit the program, but would bring a new perspective to a group of people. They also chose people whose paths probably would not have crossed had it not been for the program. I can attest that this is both true and one of the things I am most grateful for from this program.

When I received the first email that Ada and Shannan hadn’t blocked us from seeing who else was included, I recognized only a few names from social media. Others I had never heard of in my two years at Duke. Now, I can say that I know each of the Moxies on a deeper level than we started.

We have bonded together at enrichment activities, reflection dinners, and seminar discussions. At points we have all felt like we understood what was being discussed, and at other points we have all felt more confused than when we started. From cooking dinner together to having a face mask night, we have created bonds that would not have been created had it not been for this program.

I also shouldn’t talk about the bonds created in this program without talking about the bonds both our group as a whole and as individuals have built with Ada and Shannan. Both of them have pushed us to grow further not only intellectually, but as human beings in society. They have both supported our opinions and played devil’s advocate for the purpose of growth. They have been present as teachers, mentors, and a listening ear, when needed.

At our last reflection dinner, Laura said that she would host a “reflection dinner” during first semester for everyone to get together again, Ada and Shannan included. If that doesn’t say something about our group dynamic this summer, then I’m not sure what else would.

“…barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it.” – Bubba Gump

Let’s take a trip down a not so long memory lane to my first blog post when I mentioned that morale was running low for my turn to prepare dinner. Now, fast forward to this Wednesday when Bianca put herself, Kathleen, and I in a group text simply saying, “What do y’all think about fajitas?” I instantly tried to think if I had promised to go to dinner with them that night or something I had said that would relate to fajitas. Then it hit me. 

I replied, “Wait it’s our turn to cook dinner?” I got no response to that question because all I needed to do was look at the calendar where it clearly said that Kaili, Kathleen, and Bianca should arrive to Ada’s apartment one hour early to prepare dinner.

It was my turn tocook dinner for the nine girls in the program as well as our two program coordinators, Ada and Shannan. All of my fears were slowly becoming true. If I’m being honest, I had not done much cooking over the past three weeks. Sure, after the first week, I made spaghetti, but that was extent of my cooking skills beyond putting a sweet potato in the oven.

As our deadline for our shopping list slowly approached, the group chat became more active trying to think of ideas. We decided on shrimp tacos, black bean salad, chips, guacamole, salsa, and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We sent Ada and Shannan our shopping list Saturday, and then Sunday arrive to prepare the meal.

I knew I did not want to have anything to do with cooking the shrimp because that was something that could be messed up. So, I instantly put myself in charge of chopping things. I chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, onions, garlic, etc. If it needed to be chopped, I instantly volunteered. Kathleen aided me in chopping things and measuring different things to put in the black bean salad, but the shrimp tacos part of the meal was left to Bianca. She carefully chopped the vegetables that would go with the shrimp and sautéed everything perfectly. Overall, the meal tasted delicious, and we got good reviews from our cohort.

Making a meal for a large group of people was more than a first time thing for me because it was something that pushed me out of my comfort zone. If you had asked me six months ago could I come together with a team to prepare dinner for a fairly large group, I would have laughed and asked what place we would get food delivered from.

Growing up, my mom would always cook meals for us at home. When we were younger, on Saturday or Sunday mornings, she would make breakfast. Then for dinner, our options were limitless, but some of my favorites included crawfish etoufeé, gumbo, salmon, and pork chops with rice and gravy. Of course, I would help out in the kitchen with small tasks like cooking the rice or side vegetable we would have with the meal. I was never in charge of cooking a whole meal. (I think my dad and younger brother were thankful for that.)

After cooking dinner for an entire group on Sunday, I realized that surely I could make myself something my mom usually makes at home. Monday night, after going to the gym, I went to the market and bought salmon. I seasoned it just like my mom would and put it in the oven. I had my infamous sweet potato on the side with sautéed bell peppers and onions. I don’t mean to hoot my own horn, but it was good. It wasn’t as good as my mom makes it, but even my suite mates were making comments about how the apartment smelled good.

Cooking a Sunday dinner for the group is just one example of how I have been pushed out of my comfort zone in the right ways to learn new things about myself. Had I not been forced to cook a meal for the group, I don’t think I would have cooked a meal for myself these two months. Needless to say, I think there will be more cooking taking place in our apartment; however, it will not be something that happens every night.

9am-5pm or 24/7?

We arrived in New York City on May 27, 2018. May 28, 2018 we attended orientation, making ourselves familiar with the city, grocery shopping, and a walking tour filled the day. The next day I began work at Brooklyn Defender Services at 9 am. This meant I needed to wake up at 8 am to be at work on time. If I’m being honest, I can’t remember the last time I woke up at 8 am for class. So far, throughout my college career, I have made sure my classes were later in the day because I know myself.

When I was told I needed to be at work at 9 am, I cringed. My parents had already explained to me that the “real world” did not operate on the same schedule that I did, and I knew this. I knew that there would be adjustments I needed to make, but I didn’t think they would be this drastic.

Leading up to leaving for New York City, I was staying awake until 3 or 4 am for no reason. Whether it was watching Netflix or talking to friends abroad with hours of time difference, I was awake. By the time Monday night rolled around, I don’t think I stayed awake past 11 pm because of how tired I was. The ironic thing was that I had not even started the 9am-5pm yet.

Fast forward to the end of the first full week, and I was exhausted. 9am-5pm I was at Brooklyn Defender Services sitting in on court cases, accompanying lawyers to site visits, transcribing records, creating summer events brochures for clients, and many more things. Words can’t describe how excited and thankful I am to be working at this organization, already. The people I have interacted with have left an impact on me, whether they recognize this or not. The clients I have interacted with have ignited a spark in me that I didn’t know was there.

5pm – until, I was either interacting with other Moxie girls discussing how our days were or attending structured events with our site coordinator, such as a screening of the RBG movie or a self-defense class. Regardless of what I was doing, my brain was constantly being challenged to think in new ways. Specifically with our readings and discussion, I felt like my way of thinking was being challenged in good ways.

Going into this program, I knew that I wouldn’t work 9am-5pm and call it a day. I knew that I would be challenged outside of work, but I didn’t know it would be 24/7. I imagine reading this you are thinking this has to be one of the worst things ever, and that I am in New York City and should be enjoying what the city has to offer. The thing is I don’t mind attending work and then exploring new concepts and ideas.

During our reflection dinner, we discussed the idea that humans tend to want to turn off or ignore the needs of others, if they are not in constant contact with them. This past week has challenged me to not feel the need to be in contact with someone or something in order to want to change the way our society functions. The constant questioning of everything is something I am grateful for because it is something that needs to take place. As humans, we need to push beyond what we are comfortable with and question the way our society is set up. This is not to say that nothing in our society is good, but there is always room for improvement. We should surround ourselves with people who challenge us in order to see real changes being made. I already know the next seven weeks are going to be some of the most intellectually stimulating weeks I have experienced, and I am up to the challenge.

Who are you? Who am I?

Who are you? I am a woman. Who are you? I am African-American. Who are you? I am a millennial. Who are you? I am Catholic. Who are you? I am a Louisianan. Who are you? I am a Public Policy major with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship certificate. These are all great answers, but who am I?

I am Kaili Simien. Phew, finally got that out. All of those were answers I gave to my partner while performing an exercise at Duke Engage Academy; however, those labels cannot accurately describe who I am and everything I stand for.

Looking at all of those answers, you’re probably wondering why I chose to apply to the Moxie program. Looking at my resume, you’d probably think it was because I attended a single-gender school until college or the Women’s’ Studies class I took my freshman year or attending the Women’s March in Washington, DC.

All of those reasons did contribute to my choice of the Moxie program; however, it was more than that. Over the course of my young adult life, I have become more aware of the issues facing women and trying to find solutions for them.

You can’t fix all gender equity issues within one summer. This is a statement I have been reflecting on because it’s true. I am not expecting to go to New York City, intern with Brooklyn Defender Services, and fix all problems women face today. I can, however, make a difference in the lives of the people I do come in contact with.

How is a girl from a small town in Louisiana going to adjust to city life, while trying to change as much as she can? That’s something I’m still trying to figure out myself. In my town, you drive a car everywhere you need to go. New York City, on the other hand, is filled with public transportation I have never experienced.

You’ll be cooking meals for yourself during the week and for each other on the weekends.

As soon as I was told this I instantly said a prayer for whoever had to eat what I cooked. You’d think growing up in Louisiana I would have endless recipes of Cajun cuisine up my sleeve. And, I do. Do they always come out the way my mom cooks them? No. I think it’s some secret touch I haven’t developed yet.

All in all, I am excited to work with Brooklyn Defender Services. I am excited to see the issues this particular organization works with as well as how they are combatting them. I am excited to transition from rural, country life to urban, city life. I’ll keep y’all updated on how excited I am to cook for myself and others because at this moment, morale is running low.