Keeping My Fire

Elisa Ortiz recently wrote a great piece about her journey into the nonprofit sector.  It got me thinking about mine and the challenges I am facing.  So for this Nonprofit Milleninal Bloggers Alliance post, I’m reflecting on why I’m in the sector.

I didn’t get into the nonprofit sector because of a desire to feel warm inside.  In fact becoming a nonprofiteer was never a goal of mine.  I got involved in social justice work because I was angry.  I was angry at the blatant inequalities I saw every day on my way to my posh prep school in downtown Brooklyn from my family’s tiny apartment in the projects on the other side of the borough.   It was blessing, of course, to be given such an opportunity but it didn’t come without challenges, primarily not really feeling like I fit in anywhere.

College was an escape from the tension and an opportunity for reflection.   I searched endlessly for stories that could articulate my feelings of confusion, frustration, and outrage.  I found them and discovered ways to put my passion into action—volunteerism, research, and connecting with people from various backgrounds to refine my work.  Education was my saving grace and I work to increase access to those who need it most.

Yet oddly enough the more I work in the nonprofit sector, the more removed from my original passion I feel.  The language I use is no longer for the sole purpose of exploring my experiences.  Now, I’m describing someone else’s experiences for someone else’s use.   It almost feels other worldly.  Suddenly I’m a professional which means conversations on branding, development, and other stuff that gets very old very fast.  I’m writing about poorblackinnercityyouth using language that is very distant as if I wasn’t one of those poorblackinnercityyouth just a few years ago.

Where is the fire that brought me to the sector?  Why can’t I integrate it into my work instead of it being a separate private aspect of my identity that simply fuels it?  I came across this powerful article a few days ago which states that as more nonprofits reach out to their poor constituents to see what the issues are, they neglect the employees who were poor and may have their own stories to tell.  Have we considered how these conversations might renew commitment, shed light on different perspectives and ideas?

Or am I here to attend conferences on branding and the like?