Unless you’re a first-time reader, you are likely familiar with our Reverend Pinckney Scholars Program—created in response to the Mother Emanuel Church shooting. This program aims to increase access to higher education for African American students in Beaufort, Charleston, and Jasper counties. Now in its third year and 30 scholars strong, this program’s inspiring students continue to excel in the classroom and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Fueled by ambition and the legacy of this program’s namesake, their commitment to excellence does not stop when the school year ends. This back-to-school blog series will allow readers a first-person glimpse into the exciting summer work and travels of our Pinckney Scholars.
-Caroline Rakar, Program Officer
Some experiences can only provide a glance through keyhole of the doors that many young scholars wish to open. Others relinquish the keys to worlds unimaginable to the previously ignorant viewer. My experience at the Johns Hopkins University Humanities Research Collaboratory was an academic master key.
On my first day in the Collaboratory I found myself surrounded by students who were for all intents and purposes brilliant. I didn’t seem to belong. All these students seemed not just to have access to this room of academic enlightenment: but to have raided it for its most valuable treasures (confidence, eloquence, wisdom etc.) I looked around, and then looked back at myself—at my key ring—and knew that I would have to pick my way through the spoils of the room to find whatever little treasures remained once I figured out how to get through the door.
As the weeks went by the program director, Dr. Natalie Strobach, began to fill my key ring with incredible treasures: experiences. I experienced rigorous research for the second time in my life, solidified my interest in obtaining a PhD, and gained new levels of professional confidence in just 10 short weeks. My research, “O men of Athens, Dear Fellow Clergymen: The Black Apologist in a Whitewashed Genre” was focused on whitewashing within the apologetic genre which is based in the classic Greek work The Apologia. The idea for this project started with my fascination for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letters From a Birmingham Jail and its rhetorical similarities to the Apologia.
This interest developed into a quest to discover what the literature had to say about the genre, which lead me to realize that people of color were entirely absent from the discussion. From there my interest fell into place and I began to pour over literature and the two main works to build my argument. As I went through this process I watched others do the same from three giant screens in the main sections of the classroom. Over time I realized that everyone was overcoming struggles, whether that be finding sources or making sense of what exactly they wanted to say. As a Collaboratory we read over works like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Kafka’s Metamorphosis to practice engaging with dense and complicated texts. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going through the first stages of something the country had never seen before, an intentionally collaborative humanities research cohort.
While all this experiencing and key finding was going on I found myself opening up to a wide variety of opportunities for growth as a part of the program. I took GRE prep classes that opened the doors to the reality of the necessary preparation for graduate school. I discussed my resume and, for the first time, created a CV. I felt momentum build week after week as I began to construct the basis for my professional life. Each day brought me face to face with things that I had previously avoided because I had begun to feel lost simply by thinking about them.
After leaving the Collaboratory I can honestly say that the greatest skill I gained, above close reading and public speaking, was the ability to navigate circumstances beyond what I had been exposed to as a first-generation college student. That was the academic master key that I had so insecurely coveted on my first day in class this summer. I thought that having the key to success meant knowing everything or having all the answers. Now I understand, in large part because of Dr. Strobach’s encouraging and mentoring, that the real power is being able to learn what is necessary to navigate spaces where I feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, or incapable.
In the end, I walked away from this Collaboratory with so much that it would be impossible to adequately describe in a single blog post. I found so much of myself in my work, so much of my passion and attention went into my project. I realized a million little things about who I am as a researcher, a scholar, and a young woman. More than that, I realized that my values, different though they may be from the everchanging society I live in, are made of iron. Iron forged in the fires that Reverend Pinckney dedicated his life to tending. I learned that my faith and standards of excellence were unshakable, even when they seemed to be useless in the face of new challenges. I found my master key, forged from the same fire as my values, tucked somewhere in between my bible and my GRE book, resting comfortably on the legacy of everyone who worked to bring me to this point. To Johns Hopkins, to Claflin University, and eventually to a world stage that I believe will be made better because of my work.
Pictured: (Top row) Janelle at CCF’s 2017 Annual Celebration, (Bottom row, left to right) with a fellow classmate at Claflin University, and with Class of 2016 and 2017 Reverend Pinckney Scholars