Naomi Kebede has always imagined she’d one day work for a big international development organization, but after nine weeks of interning for The Black Star Project this summer, a Chicago educational and economic empowerment nonprofit, Kebede has a newfound passion for local advocacy work.
“It’s opened a new path for me,” Kebede, a rising third-year University of Chicago student, said. “It’s really important to have local organizations like this that actually interact with the people in their communities daily so I think that whatever I do in the future, I do want to incorporate that into my career.”
Kebede was assigned to work with the Douglas-neighborhood-based Black Star Project through the University’s Summer Links program. For more than 20 years, Summer Links, a program now led by the University Community Service Center within the Office of Civic Engagement, has paired undergraduate students with internships at local community-based organizations like Black Star to explore social issues impacting the City of Chicago. Summer Links cohorts are made up of students from a range of majors who are committed to public service and community building, and who are interested in exploring social change issues.
Though this year’s 17 Summer Links interns supported their designated organizations remotely, Kebede and her supervisor say they still had plenty of opportunities to make a positive impact together.
“What we’re getting from the University of Chicago is someone who we’re going to share our culture with and Naomi came right in and has been a wonderful partner this summer. She’s been in and out of meetings for all our programs and she has a pretty good sense of who we are and what we do,” said Black Star’s Executive Director Gloria Smith. “She has the right spirit, a quiet [commitment to] social justice activism, so she has been a perfect fit with our work.”
Kebede helped develop educational program curriculum, created flyers, and coordinated vendors and other details for an upcoming event celebrating The Black Star Project’s 25th anniversary. She also offered feedback on the organization’s strategic plan and several of its programs, among other projects--all from her home in Maryland.
In addition to offering full-time support to their partner organizations, Summer Links interns also spend the first week of their internship and each subsequent Friday discussing social issues and learning about Chicago’s cultures, history, and social justice concerns.
“I didn’t know much about Chicago. I didn’t know much about the South Side either, and Summer Links programming did a lot to help me understand the history of the South Side, the current situation politically, and the different kinds of organizations that are there working on important issues,” Kebede said. “That was really interesting, and I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about it. It’s important to know why the problems you’re trying to fix exist in the first place.”
As an Economics and Global Studies major, Kebede especially appreciated working on Black Star’s economic empowerment programming and connecting with such a passionate network of local advocates for change.
“When you’re on a college campus you really need to put an effort into going outside of your campus bubble and interacting with people, so I think Summer Links provides that,” Kebede said. “It puts you in touch with people who have put a lot of years and effort into the work that you’re interested in and hopefully gives you a new perspective and new insight. I think students can gain a lot from it.”
Even though her Summer Links internship wraps up in August, Kebede says she plans to continue supporting The Black Star Project by attending their events and volunteering. She also hopes to serve as a tutor for the organization’s Saturday University program when she returns to UChicago’s campus this fall. Smith says the Black Star team would love to have her.