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Jan 28, 2020

Defining Who We Are: Kenan Scholars Orientation Retreat

By Michael Byrd, Kenan Scholars Class of 2022

What does it mean to be a Kenan Scholar? Honestly, before the Kenan Scholars orientation retreat, I couldn’t have answered that question.

I understood that the program was built on leveraging private resources for public good, but what does that look like? How does it positively impact communities to make real change? Does a public-private partnership even work? If I am going to be a Kenan Scholar, shouldn’t I already know these answers? Thankfully, I was given the answers to all of these questions at the Kenan Scholar Orientation for the class of 2022, and I am excited for the opportunity to share those answers with everyone.

On Friday, my cohort began the orientation by learning about the history of the Kenan Foundation, the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and its affiliated centers. These centers tackle a range of issues from urban development to entrepreneurship, giving the Kenan Scholars access to the resources to explore a wide variety of interests. In addition, the research conducted by these centers influences policy and business practices daily, leading to lasting, positive impact on the communities it affects.

After dinner, we piled into two buses and drove to Edgecombe County, North Carolina, to spend the next 24 hours at the Franklinton Center at Bricks.

The Franklinton Center at Bricks is a social justice conference and retreat center that seeks to promote the understanding of intersectional identities and culture. In my eyes, it was the perfect place to learn about the impact the private sector can have on the public.

From the moment we arrived at the center, I felt welcome. The center is located in a rural part of eastern North Carolina, and the open landscape and bright stars reminded me of my hometown in the mountains. The night of our arrival, we played board games and got to know each other better before our day of service and learning on Saturday.

We started Saturday off with breakfast, followed by an introduction to the history of the area and the challenges it faces. The Rev. Richard Joyner and the Rev. Elly Mendez Agulo told us of the systemic food insecurity and education disparity that is perpetuated by the policies of the local government, as well as how the center has worked with partner organizations to develop programs to help combat the barriers that prevent these challenges from being solved.

They highlighted a summer program that Joyner started with the aid of his church. It provides access to farming education for local children to encourage healthier lifestyle choices and to develop a farm-to-table system for school meals. It has been immensely successful since its inception, an amazing example of public-private partnership that has positively influenced the local community.

After we learned the center’s history, we participated in community-building games and started the service portion of the day. Some Kenan Scholars shelled pecans for a local community pie-baking project, while others used business strategies to help the center tackle its pressing issues. My team was tasked to develop an intersectional outreach plan that didn’t rely on technology, forcing us to think critically about overcoming the barriers in the community.

To end the day, we played more community-building games and discussed our own identities, culminating in a conversation about how we can utilize the resources of the Kenan Scholars program to create a positive impact on the world. This experience left a thought-provoking impression on my cohort of scholars, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to further understand my privilege as I move through the program.

As I reflect on my orientation experience, I think I finally have an answer to the question of what it means to be a Kenan Scholar. I know that this definition will change as I move through the program, but I think it encompasses my experience so far and the future that I am looking forward to:

A Kenan Scholar is a student who asks more of businesses, a leader who is willing to open their mind to understand the perspectives of the communities they are in. Most importantly, a Kenan Scholar is a person who is looking to grow through their experiences, becoming a contributor to developing a better world and using their privilege to positively empower the futures of others. 

Thank you to the Kenan Scholars program for allowing me to write about my experience at orientation! I truly enjoyed it and can’t wait to participate in more inspirational programming during my time as a scholar.




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