October 11

My Life as A New Fellow: Kiana Holden

As I moved to my VFA city, one quote that my academic advisor told me began to linger in my mind. I remember the quiver in her bottom lip and the shakiness from her almost forced smile as she said, “Each experience will be what you make it.” 

Coming to Philadelphia I began to see that quote come into fruition. I know that moving to a new city is challenging and it consists of a whirlwind of emotion, but it is the most liberating experience I’ve ever endured. As I moved to my city I knew that I wanted to leave with the mindset of being open-minded and seizing every opportunity. I wanted to learn as much as I could and submerge myself into the culture. 

Early on I had the privilege to build a sense of community with a few Philly Fellows and got to know them beyond the professional four walls of Venture For America. I loved getting to hear their unique stories and the pivotal moments in their lives that led them to where they sat today. I learned that through laughter hope is fostered and through hope success is built. 

Starting a new job was terrifying, but add on being a certified perfectionist and wanting everything to be perfect. However, as I stepped foot in my office on August 9 my colleagues embraced me and welcomed me with open arms. My CEO even took us out for a new hire welcome happy hour and I got a chance to grow closer to my team. Subsequently, during our Philly Welcome Week, I got the opportunity to attend a Philly neighborhood tour  hosted by Philadelphia Experiences and the Philly Community Director, Gulsun. While in attendance, I enjoyed learning how the other half of Philly lives. 

When I moved here from New York I got a choice to choose a more rural area but not everyone gets that choice. As we navigated through the streets of West Philadelphia I gathered so much knowledge, history, and got to see Philly in a new light. The experience taught me to pay attention to my privilege. Before that experience I was oblivious to the fact that a woman of color could be biased or have privilege. I thought there was no way that someone like me who had been oppressed for centuries could even have the slightest bit of privilege, but the truth is everyone has privilege. We all have things that propel us above someone else or give us leverage in certain situations. Mine just happened to be me being a college graduate from New York City having the privilege to join an amazing community with vast opportunities. 

On the tour I got a chance to look my privilege straight in the eye and challenge the world as I knew it in my head. Hearing about the minimum wage here, which is $8.75, in comparison to New York, which is $15, and continuing to grow forced me to wake up. It also forced me to be appreciative of the pretty pink walls that I was protected by by my middle class single parent and the lifestyle their sacrifice afforded me. I got to see poverty in working class communities. I got to see murals and learn about the history of it all. Most importantly, I got a chance to create my own narrative of how I’d see Philly and how I wanted to shape my experience. From that I saw that, yes, each opportunity will be what you make it but also, sometimes, the grass is only green where people nurture it. Gentrification is changing the game for so many people and it is a plague that is moving fast and ferociously. Ultimately, I do believe that each experience will be what you make it and so my advice is to make every moment count whether it be in your daily interactions with people or your individual encounters by yourself.

Posted in: Fellows, Inside VFA