Reflections of the 2017-18 Joan Amery van Vleck Fellow


What is it like working at the Policy Center?

At the Policy Center, we are a part of history as we take on the next phase of the Justice for Girls Reform Movement.

As part of our girl-centered culture, I saw girls’ lives transform through the goodness of the human heart: a force capable of bringing about both remarkable individual healing and tangible social change. At the foundation of our endeavor is an understanding that the work of the individual ripples outward to influence the macroscopic level. The crucial decision points and moments which we are present for—from the black boxes where judges deliberate to the Girl Matters: It’s Elementary classroom where a girl can finally express herself–have the power and potential to change lives, to change history.

And so, we strive to be present for as many of them as we possibly can—and in doing so, recognize that what we say and do matters.

Vanessa, our Vice President of Research, has a mantra. She expresses that we must continually ask, “Why?” until the core of an issue is reached. After eliminating the extraneous details, all societal and institutional manifestations of unease and conflict boil down to a war between values. This practice—of reaching the heart and soul of the matter–is at the core of the work that is done here. The Policy Center refuses to shy away from confrontations between value systems, embracing inevitable frictions in order to act as a true conduit for progressive change. This is the only way real reform can be achieved—when people think and act fearlessly.

Yet, simultaneously, we’re building the plane as we’re flying it—testing the waters and allowing our processes, philosophies, practices, and policies to engage in a multilayered dialogue—fluctuating, changing, and growing as we stay attune to the community’s needs. There is a diversity of purpose, effort, and communication required for our mission: staying true to our deepest values, evolving organically over time yet maintaining a crucial sense of balance, responding to and shaping the social and political values of the community, and all through an interdisciplinary approach—the eye-opening fusion of social science with political science.

The fruits of research constitute gifts that keep on giving. As we reframe our successes and begin tracking and communicating through long-term data, we open up new dialogues and create stronger foundations for future research endeavors, embracing larger perspectives and new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting. Positive growth begets positive growth.

Every day, we feel the weight of all the work that is left to be done. But this energy is translated into fearless purpose and resilience, for it is a reminder that there is always a way to move forward. In a world where temporary limitations and superficial differences are treated as law, we are a shapeshifting question, barreling bravely with a heart of fire into the future, leaving more life and light in our wake.

“If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us.” – Francis Bacon

The fact that here and now, in this office in downtown Jacksonville, we are doing the best we can—that is enough. We trust that no matter what happens, humanity will always find a way to strive towards the good, to look for the ray of light hidden in the dark.

(Left to right: Blythe Zayets, Rachel Han, Nekea Sanders)Rachel photo

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