Recently, a good friend and I had the enlightening opportunity to interview an activist in the D.C. area, as a part of a project that we would conduct for our U.S. Government class. Our interviewee was an employee and enthused member of the Operation Understanding DC organization. Their organization takes a group of teens from the D.C. area with diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and conducts a country wide tour in which they experience firsthand the places where some of the greatest and most important events of the Civil Rights Movement took place. My partner and good friend, John “Jaytee” Tucker, was a proud participant of the last year’s honorary group and has told me how incredibly life changing the entire opportunity was, how much it changed him and in many ways enhanced his views of the world and people for the better. So when we were asked to select an activist to interview for the country-wide Civic Voices project, we thought who better than a leader of one of D.C.’s greatest organizations for change.
Aaron Jenkins is a native Washingtonian, who has used his work to improve himself as a person, son and leader of activism within the city. As we began to interview him and get his insight on some of the things and ideals we discussed, I felt that the content of his character was strong, both from his concrete upbringing and many years involvement with ODCU. He spoke to how he had a strong mother that pushed for academic achievement just as much, if not more so than the teachers at his school. He referenced at one point how he vividly remembers his sixth grade teacher telling him to always do two things, “read, and always do the best he could do in everything he did.” To me, the simple fact that he decided to digest words such as those in sixth grade, and be able to recall them with such clarity many years later showed the content of his character. As we continued to talk about the issues of the world and people, he began to teach us a few things about the importance of history and self-action. He spoke openly to the fact that he himself had learned a lot on the trips where he was supposed to be the teacher. His main point was that each person can always make a difference if they offered a drive and some initiative to do so. As he said this, John and I both learned how vitally important it is to take action for the things we believe in.
But of all the powerful things he said, one thing stuck out to me more than any other. When asked, what was the goal of his organization, Operation Understanding DC, he said “we would love to put ourselves out of business.” When explaining what he meant, he said that OUDC is an organization that aims to help the youth – America’s future – to eliminate the social ills of society. If OUDC puts itself out of business it would mean their organization has fulfilled its goal and there is no need for their existence. In my opinion, this was the greatest statement of the interview because it spoke volumes to me about the selflessness and passion within him and the organization as a whole, to look beyond itself and think passionately about the well-being of the world rather than themselves. The interview concluded with me inquiring about one wish he had for the world; his reply was that we as a people need to adapt an attitude of community to better the world for all, reassuring my admiration for his character and the effectiveness of the OUDC organization. This interview was one that I feel is a good reference point for anyone who wants to hear words of wisdom on activism. A piece of it will be posted on a national website for the public to view and enjoy. That link will be posted when it is available. And for any and all information about the Operation Understanding DC organization, please visit www.oudc.org.