Halle G. Gensler Reflects on the Newman Civic Fellow Convening

Read about Halle G. Gensler's experience at the Annual Convening of Newman Civic Fellows a three-day gathering that allows fellows time to connect with other young civic leaders from across the country and learn together.

This fall, Newman Civic Fellows from across the country gathered in Boston for the Annual Convening of Newman Civic Fellows, a three-day in-person event generously supported by The Allstate Foundation. Follow along for our blog series from Newman Civic Fellows about their experiences at this event.

Halle G. Gensler

By Halle G. Gensler, Newman Civic Fellow, Berea College

Five years ago, I would have never imagined sitting in Boston, Massachusetts, surrounded by upcoming advocates and changemakers across the country, let alone be one myself. Since I was 17, I have worked in advocacy nonprofits in Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, and North Carolina. From writing grants for mental health centers to creating asset inventories for Appalachian businesses, my path in community organizing has been widespread. Although unconventional, I have embraced the ambiguity in this journey of capacity building and service work. By March, I was nominated as the 2023 Newman Civic Fellow by Berea College President through CELTS, the Center of Excellence in Learning Through Service. Fast forward to early October, I flew from the Bluegrass State to the Newman Civic Fellow Convening in New England. 

The conference transformed my mindset on change-making and myself. Initially, I was shocked upon arrival. Comparison kills, and it can be incredibly intimidating to sit at the table with such passionate, motivated people. Although I know my work has been important, I often wonder if I should have a seat at the table or if my work is essential compared to my counterparts. The elephant in the room was addressed swiftly by Campus Compact staff that evening; imposter syndrome had overcome everyone there. There’s comfort in knowing such phenomenal people can question themselves, too, even when everyone else can see their worth.

Shortly after, the Keynote Speaker transformed my views on my work and worth. Tara Venkatraman highlighted the essence and vitality of community care practices from a disability justice lens. Studying Women, Gender, and Sexualities at Berea College and my prior organizing community care has been the center of my advocacy and mentorship. I had the opportunity to help my colleagues at my table understand what it means to create a community centered around care and rest. After her speech, I spoke with her about disability justice through bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Tricia Hersey. Frequently, I have doubted myself in what I do—yet, at this moment, I felt sure that I was finally on the right path.

Beyond the Keynote, I had not met other students interested in disability justice. Fortunately, I met many Fellows who were also interested in the field of disability justice. Even if we were not pursuing the same path, the collaboration and discussions we had were heartfelt and inviting. Exchanging these ideas was both liberating and further confirmation that it is important to continue such work. Advocacy in the field has been emerging slowly over the past few decades, and all intersections of ableism in our society must be evaluated. In an individual conversation with another Newman, I shared my discretion on pursuing what I am passionate about. To which he replied, “If you don’t do the work, who else will?” Since this moment, I realized that even if the issue is not as mainstream, the stories and people deserve to be seen and heard authentically. Again, if I was not to do it, who will? 

Since the weekend, I have felt rejuvenated in my jobs and advocacy work. Besides checking in with my newfound support system of fellows, I have been reaching out to various networks to continue working on my future project. Through networking skills learned at Newman, I have found professors interested in working on research with the intersection of disability and sex work. My planning has started with how to bring these conversations to my campus for the following year. Through my labor position at Berea College, I am fortunate to instill a project next semester for various Kentucky community members dealing with these hardships and the issue at hand. Being a part of the Newman Civic Fellowship has not only been a fantastic opportunity thus far but life-changing in what it instills.

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"I am incredibly grateful for The Allstate Foundation’s support for the Newman Civic convening this fall. The conference gave me the opportunity to grow professionally and personally in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The entire weekend at the conference changed my perception on what it means to be an advocate through action and philanthropy, thanks to The Allstate Foundation. The way they are also willing to support young change-makers is incredible, and shows their belief in emerging students. I’m thankful for the opportunity to experience such a conference with such an uplifting community."

- Halle G. Gensler