This post marks the "beginning of the end" of a series of accounts by the 2011 Roots of Hope Summer Fellows, focusing on their experiences, thoughts, and musings over the course of the coming months!
By Ben Tyler
This blog post has been extremely difficult for me to write. Being asked to write a post summing up my summer would usually not be very hard, but I simply have not been able to decide on the right words to describe the summer I had as a Raices de Esperanza Summer Fellow. After toiling with this post for some time, I have decided to do my best to summarize what was one of the more insightful, intense, and fun summers I have ever had.
First and foremost, the Fellowship was an educational experience. As I have previously posted, although I am half Cuban, lived in Miami all my life, and attended a primarily Cuban high school, I truly did not know what “being Cuban” meant to me. I had heard the stories of my grandparents and only knew Cuba as the island paradise that had been taken away from them by an oppressive regime. While Cuba may have been that at one point, Raices has helped educate me on what Cuba truly is today: a nation full of young people eager to seize any opportunity they can attain. Raices helped me put a face to Cuba and made me realize that the conversation should not be about international sanctions or economic systems, but about what we can do to give my peers on the island the same opportunities that I have had growing up in this country. The goal is very simple: to empower Cuban youth to become authors of their own future. Clearly politics have not lead us there and Raices has taught me how to change the conversation for the better.
Apart from learning more about my heritage and the problems facing Cuba today, the Fellowship exposed me to a network of student and community leaders from all walks of life. Over the summer I made some incredible friendships and connected with some of the most interesting people that I have ever met. Raices prides itself on its people, young leaders from around the country who have the courage to do what no one else has done before: change the debate. My peers at Raices inspire me on a daily basis to continue working hard and improving myself. The best part about “Roots” is that not only are they brilliant and innovative, they are some of the most down-to-Earth people you will ever meet. It is easy to be egotistical being a part of such an extraordinary organization, but Roots pride themselves on having fun as much as they work. Never would I have imagined having as much fun at work as I did this summer.
Proffessionally, the fellowship allowed me to meet with someof the most important leaders that our community has to offer. From Congresswoman Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen to former Pepsico executive Nestor Carbonell, each one of these leaders provided a unique perspective on Cuba and on life in general. Exposure to these kinds of leaders cannot be found anywhere else and is one of the reasons the fellowship is so special.
Finally, I wanted to thank the people who made this summer possible. To Raul, Miguel, Janelle, and Tony: Thank you for all that you did to make this summer possible. You all brough a unique wrinkle to the office that made me look forward to coming to work everyday. To Chabelli and Claudia: Thank you for being such incredible peers. I learned as much from the two of you as I did from anyone else and I am glad we had the opportunity to work so closely this summer. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Felice. Words cannot express how thankful I am to you for bringing me on and allowing me to experience and become a part of Raices. You have an uncanny ability to make people feel instantly comfortable and you went out of your way to give us the best summer we could’ve possibly had. I learned so much from you beyond what you consciously taught me and I know you are going to do great things at the White House.
All in all it is safe to say that the Raices de Esperanza Summer Fellowship changed my life for the better. I learned a lot, had a great time, and made some incredible friends. When people ask me what I did this summer it is very difficult to answer concisely, but most of the time I tell them “I spent my summer working to better the lives of young Cubans and had an incredible time doing it”
Until next time,
Dale con dale,
Ben Tyler is a rising sophomore in the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Raíces de Esperanza 2011 Summer Fellow. To contact Ben, email firstname.lastname@example.org