Reflections on being a Perkins Fellow & a Perkins House Resident | Sade Akinbayo '19

It is difficult for me to summarize my reflections as a Perkins Fellow and a member of the Perkins House as I enjoy allotting myself an ample amount of time to reflect, time I do not currently have. So much has happened this academic year and I know if I event attempt to list a few events that occurred within the past eight months, I would end up producing a 15-page report. It's best for me to allow two brief essays I recently wrote to speak to my experiences as a Fellow and member of the Perkins House. I was asked to describe my most meaningful leadership experience and my greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community in 250 words or less for each essay. Without a doubt, I wrote about my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member despite the word limit restricting the transformative events to which I could attest.

Essay 1: In 250 words or less, describe your most meaningful leadership experience. 

"As a college student, it is difficult not to conflate leadership with the number of executive positions one holds throughout their years as an undergraduate student. Leadership, certainly, includes assuming a role within an organization or group that demonstrates one’s ability to guide individuals to the completion of a task. Yet, I believe that leaders are most impacted, cultivated, and strengthened through the act of service: whether that be through volunteering or simply being one who dedicates time to support and engage others. 

My third year at the University of Virginia has been defined by collective and individual service to the Charlottesville community through two programs supported by Theological Horizons: The Perkins House (located in the Venable neighborhood on Grady Avenue), an intentional community of university students honoring civil rights activist John M. Perkins by building bridges between the UVa and Charlottesville community; and The Perkins Fellowship, a Fellows program centered on vocational discernment through community engagement and training by community service innovators in cross-cultural engagement and community development. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as an inaugural member of both The Perkins House and The Perkins Fellowship has proven to mark a transformative point in my personal growth. 

Through my participation in these programs, I have a greater understanding about how to utilize the roles I assume during my time at the University to best contribute and pour into the communities I so dearly love and to which I belong. "

Essay 2: In 250 words or less, describe your greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community. 

"Though I have spent most my time contributing to the establishment of The Perkins House, my most significant service to the Charlottesville community has been supporting and investing love and time into some of Charlottesville’s youth.

As a tutor and mentor at Friendship Court’s Community Center, I assist students with mathematics and language arts and also aid the Community Center’s Coordinator with the Girls’ Mentoring Program. One of my favorite memories as a tutor occurred last year when I helped Naylia, a kindergartener at the time, solve math problems from a deck of addition flash cards. She was, at first, unenthusiastic to solve the problems and became frustrated as she perceived them to be too difficult for her to solve. However, the more problems we worked on together, the greater her desire was to solve more equations. She even wanted to solve equations she previously thought were too hard for her! The moment I saw Naylia’s face beam with a beautiful smile after I told her she solved the equations correctly, I made a commitment to do whatever I could to help her, and her peers, excel in school.

Knowledge is power and we all are well aware of the power the youth yield in challenging and changing societal norms. I know these students will have a large impact in their communities and I will continue assisting them in their growth, one equation at a time, one conversation at a time, throughout the rest of my time here in Charlottesville."

There are a couple things I must add in addition to what I expressed in these essays. First, I felt quite indifferent when asked to write about "my greatest contribution" to the Charlottesville community. The language used in this prompt certainly implies that certain "contributions" are more valued and praised than others (but that is another conversation to be had). I decided to rather describe an activity, conducted outside the UVa bubble, that rejuvenates my spirit day-in and day-out: tutoring and mentoring the youngens at Friendship Court. Words cannot describe how much I LOVE the kids I spend time with throughout the week. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member has given me a desire to incorporate the same intentionality we honor within theses programs to my time spent with the kids at Friendship Court.

I am excited to spend at least another year with them... If only they knew that they had me at hello.

Reflections by Fellow, Joanie Fasulo

Winter break is one of the only times in the year when I get to wake up to a blank calendar. Other than familial commitments and the occasional phone call, I get to spend my time freely and can even make the choice not to do anything productive. There is little to no question if I will be able to read my Bible or spend time in prayer  – time is in abundance. 

During the academic year, this is not the case. I go to bed each night, thinking about the flurry of activity that will begin the next morning – generally not stopping until late the next evening. Of course, I am the one choosing to live this hectic life – running from a morning behind the counter at Grit to a seminar on African American Political Thought and then to a lecture in the English department on Little Women. After that, it is off to spend time with community youth partners at Friendship Court and then to grab dinner at Newcomb before heading to Alderman for the night, taking little time in between any of these things (generally being late to most). 

These are all things I am happy to be doing. I love the people that I work with and I love that I get to listen to brilliant professors and peers talk about topics that interest me (and with one semester left, I have become even more grateful for my education here). However, during these hectic days, it is all too easy to get caught up in the here-and-now and neglect any part of life that isn’t on my to-do list (something we reflected on with David Foster Wallace’s This is Water as Horizons fellows). This can mean seeing far too few friends who draw me closer to the Lord, reading my Bible or going to church; or any combination of these things that help me to remember that I am a daughter of the King and that I have been promised life to the full. Forgetting my identity makes it harder to give and receive grace, love others well, and commit to a servant’s attitude – things that aren’t all that easy in the first place. After a summer diving deeper into many theological questions and practices, it became rather clear that the answer is almost always to spend more time with God – to seek comfort in the hard times and to celebrate in the good. So many of us know this to be true, yet we still struggle to do just that – at least, I know I do. When I came back to grounds this fall after my time spent working in a kitchen at a Christian study center on Martha’s Vineyard (perhaps the most idyllic summer job), I was so grateful that I had signed up to spend a larger chunk of time with the Theological Horizons team. 

As an Intern and a Fellow, the chunks in my calendar designated to TH are set apart from the rest of my commitments (and not just because they have their own color in my elaborate attempt at organization– one of my many outlets of procrastination). I step out of my frenetic pace and into the spaces that TH creates for me. These spaces are marked aside and often begin or end in prayer. Not only do I get to hear wisdom from vintage Christians on Fridays, I get to learn about their lives and read their quotes in preparation for sharing their words with students via weekly emails or social media posts. I get to receive wisdom and advice from my mentor who is further along in her walk with the Lord and is also passionate about caring for the community around her. Engaging in times of fellowship and encouragement extend beyond the times like evening prayer (here is a shameless plug for y’all – Wednesdays at 6pm, Lawn Room 47 West) or monthly Horizons meetings. It is in our weekly planning meetings where Christy will catch us up on the latest episode of On Being and Karen will read a piece to bring us into prayer and a time of sharing (this was where I learned of the spiritual practice of statio – taking intentional time during transitions to rest in the moment.) Fridays spent in the office with Megan offer a time to catch up from the week as either of us work on various duties as interns (often involving envelopes) – we give each other briefings on what has happened and how we’ve been doing with the quiet times (Megan is a seasoned pro at making these happen in her own busy schedule, I am often in awe). Perhaps the highlight of both of our semesters, has been the steady supply of trail mix available in the office (aside from the times when our fellow intern, Garrett, has stolen all the chocolate). 

Fittingly, I had not taken a break long enough to reflect on how I spent my time over this semester until it was over. Looking back, I am able to fully appreciate all of the different ways that my time with TH draws me out of my calendar and myself and into a beloved community. In a time in my life when the next step is uncertain, I am unbelievably grateful to Theological Horizons and the people it has led me to and the restful times it has given to me.