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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

A Day in the Life of a Baby at the Policy Center

Hi, I’m Mila, and I want to tell you about being a Policy Center baby. Thanks to the Policy Center’s Baby at Work (B.A.W.) program, I got to go to my work with my mama for the first six months. I got to have fun at the office with my mom. I promised to be on my best behavior… most of the time… unless I got hungry, then all bets are off.


1. For the past 6 months, my mom and I collaborated on important work everyday. She delved into paperwork and emails, while I read books and worked on my tummy timeI even had my own desk, complete with a changing table, a seat by the window, and toys!

2. At the Policy Center, I took part in many important staff meetings. I don’t want to say too much, but some of them took place behind closed doors with the CEO and President.


3. Throughout my time at the Policy Center, I also took part in birthday party celebrations. Lawanda always wanted to hold me. Ok, fine, maybe I wanted her to hold me a little also.  


4. Sometimes, if I got a little cranky, Lawanda would take me to her office and show me cartoons on her computer. That always brightened my mood, even though my face may not look like it here.


5. At the end of the school year, we went to the Girl Matters: It’s Elementary (GMIE) graduation, and spent time with the students. Soon, I will be just like these girls, playing and learning at school.


6. The fun did not stop there, my mom took me on a research team retreat in the summer.


7. As my time at the Policy Center came to an end, the staff made me a memento to remember my B.A.W. experience: my very own shirt reading “See the Baby Girl.”


8. They threw me a graduation party, topped with a graduation cap and cupcakes! I told myself to eat just one, but I forgot and ate three. 


9. Although I was the first baby in the Baby at Work program, I’m not the only one. Alani joined the program a year later.  The team seems to really like having us around! Even though I am no longer at the Policy Center, I am still a girl expert. I’ve started my training in school, doing field research and hands on learning, so I can understand what it is like to be a girl today.


By Anisa Patel

Feminism Part I: Words from Stephanie Walker

Feminism is a subject I learned about in history class. It was one chapter chalked full of powerful, competent women in the early 1900s, and that is pretty much where my education of feminism ends. Today, the word feminism is a dirty word used to paint feminists as radicals. This, like many other stereotypes about women, is unfounded and too simplistic of an explanation to describe women who fight for their rights. To me feminism is embracing the idea that women should be respected as equal members of society and can be who they want to be and can do what they want to do without being restrained by society. It is a term used to describe men and women who fight for the rights of girls and women around the world. It is perplexing to me that there needs to be a word to define the struggle of women to be equal to men because men do not have a term to describe their struggle to have equal rights with women. I hope that someday the term feminism will not only be positive, but that someday the word will not need to even be used. I hope that women will be free to say and act as they see fit without being judged and controlled by what society deems as appropriate. It may seem ideal and unrealistic, but I hope that there will be a day when women can coexist in this world with equal rights –like every man in this world.

Stephanie Walker is a previous Development Intern at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.  She is a Master of Public Administration from the University of West Florida, and current resident of Gainesville, Florida. She is developing a growing love for non-profit work, especially on the development of young girls and women.