On August 18, the International Fellows Network (IFN) had a networking event in which a panel of students, fellows, entrepreneurs, and activists from a variety of backgrounds discussed positive changes that have come out of their experiences during the pandemic, particularly working from home.
Rikeshia Davidson, a 2019 Urban Leaders Fellow, hosted the event, encouraging the panelists to address a number of topics, including Black professionals’ sense of belonging at work, mental wellness, working from home, and networking. A running theme among the panelists was prioritizing mental wellness and ways they’ve upgraded their home offices to be calming, personalized, and productive workspaces.
Laureé Akinola-Massaquoi, a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow and current Regional Field Manager at Color of Change, said, “I work for an organization that’s unapologetically Black (Color of Change), and a majority of my colleagues are Black so we talk about how we worked at other jobs where there were examples of microaggressions. And now we create space that feels good for us.”
Angell Kim, a 2020 Donald M. Payne Fellow and Peace Corps participant, noted that prioritizing ‘you’ can materialize in simple ways like upgrading to a more comfortable chair. But more importantly, she says, “being able to balance life and get the work done without any fear or anxiety has been helpful to me.”
Brooke Waller, CEO of Brooke Bold Media, noted that “mental health and being able to control when I can exercise (when I can take time for self-care) has been very important to me with the pandemic and with the social justice uprising. So I’m grateful for the time that I have to work from home. If I want to go workout during my lunch break at the gym, I have the opportunity to do that.”
Jordan Braithwaite, a sophomore at Grambling State University and 2021 White House HBCU Competitiveness Scholar and Greenwood Project Fellow, said, “Even though that experience of having all the in-person fun that every HBCU student looks forward to was kind of taken away, we were still able to have that sense of family. That’s the main thing that I love about Grambling. That’s why we call ourselves ‘GramFam,’ because we treat every classmate like we’re family.”
The panel acknowledged the importance of communicating with your colleagues and team as working from home continues and evolves. Each panelist offered helpful advice:
Brooke: “Celebrate your wins – big or small. Write down a ‘win’ each week and tell a friend. We have something to be proud about. We have pivoted. We have new, innovative, creative ideas to interact with colleagues and friends.”
Angell: “Take initiative and be proactive. The pandemic has taught us that it’s very important to connect and rekindle, establish, and maintain relationships.”
Jordan: “Try not to look at this [time] like a blocking point, but instead figure it out. This is the issue, but how can I work around it?”
Laureé: “Take the time to journal and check-in with others.”
The International Fellows Network is a professional networking organization of more than 1,800 current and former fellows from all over the world. The IFN also holds events online, in San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Berlin, Germany and is seeking to expand events to new locations. Through the IFN, current and former fellows can connect for socializing, advice and insights on fellowships, jobs, events, graduate programs, and collaborative opportunities. If you are a current or former fellow and would like to join, please sign up for our fellowships database, and we’ll be in touch by email!