Part of my role in Istanbul was working at the American Studies Center, and during graduate school I had taken many classes on American politics. I loved learning about the American presidential system, lobbying in the U.S., and the Supreme Court. During my Atlas Corps fellowship, I have had the opportunity to begin following these issues even more closely. I feel especially lucky to be in Washington, DC, the heart of American politics, during a presidential election year.
While I was in Turkey, if “future Selma” came to me and said that I’ll meet with Justice Sotomayor (the first Latin American, and third woman, appointed) in the Supreme Court, I would have insisted that this is impossible. But of course, as an Atlas Corps Fellow, nothing is impossible. So the impossible became a reality – I met with the honorable Justice, who is currently one of eight Justices (because Justice Antonin Scalia lost his life recently). How?
Along with my host organization, I had the opportunity to attend the Sphinx Medals of Excellent Celebration in the Supreme Court for the Sphinx Organization, which sees diversity in the arts as a path towards improving lives.
Before the dinner, we had a quick tour of the Supreme Court; the tour was timely, especially since President Obama had just nominated Merrick Garland to be the ninth Supreme Court Justice. To be in the Supreme Court, on this very day, I felt that I was living a part of the American history I had so long studied from afar. This nomination process has (unfortunately) become a controversial issue as a result of the increasingly partisan political scene. In fact, President Obama, while visiting the school where he taught law, recently lamented the polarization of the nomination process.
Politics aside, the U.S. Supreme Court has become a stage for incredible causes. During the Gala Dinner, I felt honored to witness touching and inspiring performances from the Sphinx Organization’s awardees. One of my favorites was from Julia Bullock “I Wish I knew How it would Feel to Be Free.”
This song was written during an important moment in the U.S. civil rights movement. I felt intense emotions during this song, as wanting to feel free is a part of being human, and diversity is our most valuable asset as a society. I started to think about how freedom, manifested in inclusive democracy, is a goal we should not forget. In our chaotic world, full of extremes, there is no one solution for solving overwhelming problems. But we, as young leaders, can change small yet important parts of our fields and countries. Together, making small differences, we can have a big impact. Atlas Corps Fellows use their knowledge and experience to start initiatives and change paradigms in their societies.
Luckily, I was able to discuss these topics with the humble and engaging Justice Sotomayor, who approached all the guests with warmth and hospitality. Thanks to my supervisor, I was able to gather courage to introduce myself as an Atlas Corps Fellow from Turkey serving at the John D. Evans Foundation.
I mentioned our efforts to work for Syrian refugees in Turkey. She listened to me with great respect and interest. She told me that, people-to-people international exchange programs, while small in scale, are playing a crucial role in solving challenging crises and fostering collaboration. Where the Supreme Court is concerned, Justice Sotomayor recently called attention to the importance of diversity for empathy, understanding, and effective communication. The diversity of Atlas Corps Fellows highlights this point.
Justice Sotomayor is an accomplished woman who I admired from afar previously. Now, I can say I have met with her and she inspired me in person. But alongside Justice Sotomayor, I am also inspired every day by my fellow Fellows. I am surrounded by people who are dedicating their lives to helping others, and I give thanks to my supervisors, Steve Wozencraft and John Evans, for giving me this opportunity. It will remain an unforgettable experience in my life.
Yes, I am one person. But alongside my Atlas Corps Fellows and supervisors, I am reminded that our work is a small step on a larger path towards global justice.