Elijah Henderson and David-Earl Russell are interning with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation this summer as part of their education at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at St. John’s University. We invited them to share their stories as they start on this work; this is the first of two posts about their conversation.
(David-Earl Russell) What was your favorite park experience growing up? How did it impact you?
(Elijah Henderson) Parks were never easily accessible to me as a child. Oftentimes the only way I would visit or play at parks was with my grandmother or at family functions. This meant that we would need to travel at least 10-15 minutes in order to get there and I often found myself playing by myself or the few kids I may have met that day. Although parks were not a big influencer in my childhood or young adult years it does not take away from the impact those parks brought to my life. It was at the park I learned to socialize with those I have never met before. Parks bring out a multitude of different people. Although It was never a guarantee that I would meet kids at the park, when I did, I was able to connect and learn about them. Playing and interacting with those that were different truly allowed me to see that although we may not look the same, we were still children who liked to play and have a good time. It did not matter where we came from or how much our families made. The park was a safe space to just be ourselves.
What is your major? What influenced you to choose your major?
During my senior year of high school our current president had been elected. As a student of color and a strong advocate against his remarks I was appalled and disheartened by the direction of our country and the decision my peers had made. With that I decided to study political science when I started college at St. John’s University. My interest in government grew immensely during my later high school years. I began to understand that there were various systems in place that had been affecting people of color throughout the country. I felt like it was my duty to study and understand the system the best I could and then use that understanding to create the change I want to see in my community and government. I have a goal to eventually get into local politics and eventually use my skills and expertise to benefit whatever community I find myself in.
How has St. John’s University prepared you for this internship?
Throughout my tenure at St. John’s I have found myself taking as many opportunities as possible. I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and join clubs and organizations that I felt could help me become the leader I want to be in the real world. As a freshman I applied and was accepted as the event coordinator for the Black Student Association. As a sophomore I began running the Men’s Development Institute which is an organization that discusses men’s issues including but not limited to men’s mental health, men’s body image, sexuality, toxic expectations, etc. I was also elected as the Student Affairs Chairman on the St. John’s Senate. All of these positions allowed me the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. I was able to grow and realize my shortcomings, address them head on and make sure that moving into this internship I will not allow myself to make the same mistakes. I have learned ways of effective communication and skills that will continue into the internship and later my professional career as well.
What motivated you to get an internship for the Summer?
I wanted to participate in an internship this summer because I understand the importance professional experience can have on someone’s career progression. I truly believe I am ready to take on the real world and I believe an internship opportunity is the best way for me to see what I am efficient at in the professional setting and what I can improve on. This also gives me a great opportunity to watch and learn from those that have been in the professional environment for a while. I have always loved watching and learning from those who have come before me and I believe an internship can do just that for me.
What brought you to intern for the Minneapolis Parks Foundation?
I found the Minneapolis Parks Foundation through the fellowship I received through my university. Although the Parks Foundation was not my first choice it did fall under the three main pillars I had been looking for in an internship:
- It was an organization that worked with the community to bring active change.
- It offered an opportunity to work with a diversified team that is willing to work hard, think critically, and lead with empathy.
- It offered me an opportunity to learn and grow throughout the duration of my internship.
All of these pillars were essential to me when making my decision because I felt they would offer me a meaningful and productive experience and, so far, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation has done that for me.
What is something that the Minneapolis Parks Foundation has brought to your attention in regards to the city/park system? How has this impacted your experience so far? Why is it important?
Working on the Reimagining Civic Commons project has allowed me to see the disparities in my city in regards to access to the Mississippi River. I was able to go on a drive from the Upper Harbor area all the way down past 26th Ave N and beyond. Just within the week working with the Parks Foundation, I found myself beginning to question the difficulties North Side Minneapolis constituents would face when trying to get to the river. In all honesty, If I was a member of the Northside community, I do not know if I would have even had a clue that there was a river nearby with the lack of resources available to them. I believe this has been incredibly important in regards to me beginning to think critically. A week before my internship I do not believe I would have had even the slightest concern about the disparities I learned and thought about my first week of my internship and I believe that was a very important experience for me to have.
What do you hope to gain from working with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation?
I hope to gain a sense of understanding about my role within any company or organization moving forward in my professional career. I already have a vast amount of student leadership experience, but I think by working with the Parks Foundation, I will be able to use that experience and build on it to create actual professional work experience. I am hopeful and excited to continue working with the great people in the Parks Foundation to build a more inclusive and loving park experience. Hopefully, while working with the Parks Foundation, I will be able to grow one step closer to becoming the leader I hope to be some day.