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Interns embrace diversity, justice issues

Ethnic Young Adult interns gather on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The interns, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, spent this summer living together while working in organizations that address social concerns. A UMNS photo by Shalom Agtarap.

By Xochitl Garcia*
Sept. 7, 2007

On summer weekdays, interns from all over the United States flood Capitol Hill in Washington on their way to government buildings.

Once on the Hill, many of the interns head for congressional offices. But this past summer, like many others, 14 interns departed from the group and reported to the United Methodist building just across the street from the Supreme Court.

These are the Ethnic Young Adult interns, selected by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to spend two months interning at places all over the District of Columbia. They are chosen for their leadership qualities, involvement in The United Methodist Church and ethnic heritage.

The interns range in age from 18 to 22 and represent African, African-American, Indian-American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian-American heritage.

"The internship is a unique leadership program because it is geared towards persons of color, historically representing the racial ethnic caucuses and communities of The United Methodist Church," said the Rev. Neal Christie, the board’s intern program director. "It is unique in that it's multiracial, it's intentionally seeking out persons that otherwise would not be represented in Washington D.C., especially on Capitol Hill and advocacy settings."

He added that although ethnic diversity is prevalent in D.C., most of those working in the district and on Capitol Hill are Anglo-American. Having the multiracial interns on the Hill brings voices that are not fully represented and allows these young people to be seen and heard, he said.

'Changed my outlook'

Senior intern Elaine Atim -- raised in the Philippines until age 10 -- was chosen to return two years after her first internship and lead the new group.

Atim, who is passionate about justice issues, is attending Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington this fall. "This internship just seemed something great for me to try," she said. "I wanted to return this year because I had a sense of gratitude towards the program because it totally changed my outlook on life. I wanted to give back to the program and wanted to have a personal hand in impacting other people in the way that I have been impacted by the program."

Susan Jacob, a 20-year-old Indian American and student at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., appreciated that chance to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. "I am coming to realize the importance of faith-based organizations in advocacy," she said. "Jesus worked for justice, he cared for the poor, sick, hungry and dying, and it is important for the church to stand for those issues."

The interns typically work at governmental and non-governmental offices, faith-based advocacy agencies and grassroots organizations. Every Friday at the United Methodist Building, they attend workshops designed to generate fellowship and address issues such as race in politics and policy making.

Diverse cultures

Alfonso Noel Estes, a 21-year-old student from San Francisco State University, found the internship to be a "unique experience" because of the diversity represented.

"We have students from Liberia and Gambia and then one from Georgia, so we are coming from all these different experiences," explained Estes, who is of African-American and Hispanic/Latino heritage. "It makes it real beautiful to sit down in a Friday meeting and share our different experiences at the table."

James Edward Stevenson, an African-American student at the University of Arizona, agreed. "The diversity here has changed my experience because I got to learn a lot of everybody’s culture. I got to understand people and where they come from, their traditions and folklore."

Having felt the call to ministry, Stevenson said he has now found a new and more socially conscious way to preach God’s word. "When I become a pastor," he added, "I won't be afraid to be outspoken. By outspoken, I mean to preach about social injustices and things that are relevant to our society, as opposed to just using the Bible as a comfort zone."

*Garcia served as a summer intern at United Methodist Communications this year, and she was in the 2006 group of Ethnic Young Adult interns at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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