– Grace May, 2022 SAF intern
United for a Fair Economy
This prompt is deceptively easy as I am 20 and still have no idea who I am. I know the basics… my name is Grace, I’m from Virginia, I have purple hair, I like pineapple on pizza. When I start going deeper, I become unsure of myself. I find doubt, questions like if I’m on the right path, if I belong, if I should share my story or hold back. Throughout my life, I pledged to make myself valuable to others so they wouldn’t leave. If I was not the smartest in the room, I was the funniest. If I wasn’t the funniest, I was the most competitive. I didn’t even realize I had created this facade until COVID happened and I was forced to sit and think. I stared at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person who stared back. The scary part? I don’t know when I lost myself… and I’ve been on a quest to find myself ever since.
Through a series of interesting events, I wound up at UNC-Chapel Hill, desperately needing to fill my freshman year schedule. One class, taken on a whim, discussed policy surrounding migrant guestworkers in the United States. The more I learned, the more I wanted to change the policies surrounding farm work. Following this class, I became a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could concerning migrant rights and food policy.
As I continued to walk through UNC’s campus, I began to feel less like a shadow. I worked with the local refugee community and formed life-long connections among families. I took classes that excited my brain. I joined the club rugby team. I helped families apply for rent stimulus. Now, things were not all dreamy. Far from it. The past three years have been the hardest of my life but, with each decision I make, each step forward I take, I have felt as though my body has become more whole. To best describe it: I have been reverse Thanos-snapped. All the sand particles have come back to form me.
With my newfound assuredness, I decided to do something which absolutely terrified me: apply to SAF. I admired their work and found it aligned perfectly with my values and what I wanted to advocate. However, I found the old fear oozing back into my mind, filling the vacant spaces. What if I didn’t belong? How could I contribute to the movement? Is it even my space to occupy? As the first Zoom call grew closer, I found doubt beginning to rival excitement as my primary emotion. Then, to make the fear worse, I discovered I would be a part of the theater group. Me. Ms. I-Get-Hives-When-I-Speak-In-Front-Of-Others. Ms. Never-Acted-In-Her-Life. Needless to say, I was terrified walking into the Avila retreat center.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I do not exaggerate when I say orientation week was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have never experienced such unadulterated support and love from strangers. I saw the value of every single person’s story, no matter their background. I saw the importance of vulnerability. I saw a community coming together with the wild dream of changing the lives of their families. And, for the first time in a long time, I feel certain in the direction my feet are carrying me. I cannot wait to see the stops along the way.