2016 PFIG Recipient Vendarryl Jenkins
Journal Entry #1
When I begin to look back on the past 10 weeks that I have spent interning at the Department of Justice, I can only reflect on how fortunate I was. I was given an opportunity through my Parent’s Grant funding to participate in public service, specifically, securing the fundamental pillar to American society, justice for all. While that sounds haughty for a simple undergraduate intern, I had a front row seat to events unfolding this summer that have shaken the American conscience to its core. Many years later, I believe that this summer will be recorded in the history textbooks. The American People were forced to face the question of fundamental rights, be they the rights of the LGBTQ community, the Black community, or even those of the police sworn to protect us. During all of this, I worked in the Office of Public Affairs which engages with the national media to ensure that the story of justice is being reported to the public, and being reported correctly. My internship began with a press conference, headed by the Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, denouncing the vicious violence that took place in Orlando, FL, earlier this summer. There I was, an intern, 30 feet from the top law enforcement officer in our country who was addressing the hate crime that I had watched unfold on CNN just days before, but this time I was there in the room that CNN was filming. I was inspired by her words, and reassured of the American fabric, that we would rebound as a stronger more united America. Yet, that week was followed by tragedy after tragedy. We saw the brutal and seemingly unwarranted shootings of Black men in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, and the list continues with those cases that do not make national headlines. Then, suddenly we were struck with the nation’s outrage at the slaughter of Dallas police officers. I found myself working in a building dedicated to justice, yet more knowledgeable and more aware of injustice than I had ever been before. Frankly, my internship both inspired me to make a difference, yet left me disillusioned with who we are as Americans. One issue that remains on the periphery and is typically only reported by obscure local news mediums is the systemic injustices that Native Americans face. I received a phone call mid-way through my internship in which a Native American man called in desperation. He told me a horrific story of three reservation police officers beating him, and tying a noose to string him up to make it seem as if he had committed suicide. They cut him down before died. It was chilling to listen to his story, and his next words were that he had to run away from the reservation, because there was no justice and he had not gotten justice for 15 years. I was later given an assignment to research the plight of Native Americans in the United States and found that one in three Native American women will experience rape, that Native Americans are consistently discriminated against for loans necessary for investment in small businesses, and have been jailed at heinously disproportionate rates in states such as South Dakota. But, the FBI has historically chosen not to invest resources into investigating those crimes. I sent all of these facts to spokespeople within the office, asking them to begin to highlight these issues in mainstream media. This fascinating internship came along with further moments of frustration with the failure of the system. I specifically remember when a man called who had been party to a discriminatory suit in which the local fire department had systematically excluded Black candidates. Yet, he couldn’t find anyone to help update him on the progress of the case, myself included. He was tossed around from person to person, and I saw that even when legal justice prevails, sometimes the people it should affect change for are lost in the bureaucracy of the justice system--they simply fall through the cracks.
However, with all of that said, I also was put in the fortunate position to announce for the first time that the Justice Department would be implementing implicit bias training for all of its offices. I had a front seat in the talks about our nation’s cutting edge cyber security updates, and frankly learned a little too much about past cyber terrorist attacks. The best part about working at the Justice Department was being at the nexus of all of these key issues, some I had never heard of before. CNN was a constant staple in the office, I felt more in sync with the news than ever before--in fact I had to watch two congressional hearings and then transcribe them. Who knew I’d start cheering on certain judiciary committee members and find so many role models. I had the amazing experience of meeting President Obama’s National Security Advisor, who shed light on the governmental perspective of Snowden, the infamous whistleblower. I met with the Attorney General, the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, and the Acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration during a lecture series where they encouraged each of us to be a part of this country’s future within the public sphere. I even was so bold as to joke with the Attorney General and tell her that I casually called her Auntie Loretta. She laughed and gave me a hug. I met the head of the COPS program who directs all of the community policing outreach initiatives nationwide, and I felt inspired that the work at the Department of Justice may be hard and disheartening at times, but then you’re inspired by a big win that is just enough to keep you going strong and fighting the good fight. I met so many inspirational people in my office, people who always reminded me that they had the pedigree to be doing anything they wanted, but they chose to be here, serving the people of the United States. The best part about the people I worked with this summer was that they valued me, they wanted to see me thrive, and their immense DC networks have suddenly become mine to explore. I’d often call my friends during the summer and tell them about my day and who I had met. I was met with envy, as they were couped in an office and transfixed on an excel spreadsheet. I think I got the better deal, though they might have a few more bucks.
Journal Entry #2
My experience at the Department of Justice was one that allowed me to see the law in a way that protected the people of the United States before many were aware of the need for that protection. I watched as the Department pursued efforts to block a major merger of health insurance providers that would have the effective result of a monopolized market. While I am not one particularly fluent in the language of economics, it was intriguing to watch the law and the Anti-Trust division at work. Furthermore, I was granted the opportunity to increase my personal knowledge through protracted interactions with the Anti-Trust division, a field I would have likely found no interest in prior. I was able to see that their work protected the American people in ways parallel to that the Civil Rights division.
Journal Entry #3
I never thought I would have a proficient understanding of AP style writing. But, I was wrong—a common occurrence lately. If I didn’t gain anything else from my internship, I picked up that skill and decided I really hate the rules that make communication more about commas than content. I also have a greater understanding of which letters to capitalize in titles. The rules aren’t as easy as they always taught me in elementary school. But, what’s an internship without a few technical skills gained? At least I was doing it for the people of America and not stuck at a desk making Excel spreadsheets like all my consulting friends.