Photo by Madi Hermeyer
Two Ervin Scholars and St. Louis natives Brittany Packnett Cuningham (Class of 2006) and Morgan DeBaun (Class of 2012) spoke about their experiences at Washington University and beyond regarding movement-building, people-pleasing, and self-care at a talk called “Bridging Gaps: Hometown Ervin Scholars Changing the World” on Sept. 30.
Members of the community gathered in Edison Theatre for the program, and Rafia Zafar, Professor of African and African American studies at the University, moderated the event.
Packnett Cunningham is a political analyst for MSNBC, a co-founder of Campaign Zero, and a founder of Love & Power Works, among other roles in the education and policy fields. DeBaun is an entrepreneur who founded Blavity, Afro Tech, and Worksmart.
While attending the University, Packnett Cunningham co-founded the Student-Worker Alliance (SWA). At the program, she shared tips for other student groups that hope to gain traction and be sustainably powerful. Her chief advice was to create balanced and equitable movements.
“We build teams, not saviors,” Packnett Cunningham said.
DeBaun added that powerful movements must adapt to modern technology to influence people.
“Having our own distribution networks is the ultimate power,” DeBaun said.
She also explained the history of Black media, discussed thriving radio shows hosted by Black leaders, and addressed how her company Blavity aims to extend Black power in media to the internet.
Dr. Zafar asked Packnett Cunningham and DeBaun how they manage the expectations of others. They agreed that trying to please others is self-destructive.
“I’m the person who has to wake up and live my life,” DeBaun said.
DeBaun hopes students will stop trying in vain to meet everyone’s expectations and realize that people who take care of themselves are more successful in the long run. Packnett Cunningham added that self-preservation is the key to well-being and success.
“Real self-care looks like designing a life you don’t want to escape from,” she said.
Rather than planning a vacation to escape a monotonous and stressful life, Packnett Cunningham suggests we adjust our ways of life to not depend on one week out of a year for our happiness.
DeBaun circled the discussion of self-care back to her time as an Ervin Scholar, during which she was told by the program leaders that “We don’t need you to be perfect — we need you to be well.” DeBaun and Packnett Cunningham said that they hope that any person fighting in a movement will understand that wellness is always more powerful than perfection.
Packnett Cunningham added that people, particularly members of marginalized groups, are told not to trust their instincts. As important as it is to learn from others, the speakers agree that we should listen to our gut.
“It’s very tempting at a rigorous institution to have your whole life planned out,” she said. “It won’t work out. You just have to know that your instincts are your best friend.”
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