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My Voice Still Matters: Its Resonance Can Still Elicit Change!

Azaria Cunningham in front of the US Capital.
The first time I attended the AACTE Day on the Hill in Washington, DC, was in 2015. At that time, I was one of two in the first Holmes Masters students’ program at William Paterson University (WPU). AACTE had just begun the implementation of adding Holmes Cadets, Holmes Honors, and Holmes Masters students. Before attending the “Day on the Hill,” Holmes held a Summer Policy Institute session, and upon entering the room, I immediately felt a sense of being home. The room was comprised of Holmes Scholars who were pursuing a doctoral degree. Having the chance to be surrounded by successful scholars who looked like me increased my internal drive. Holmes Scholars influenced me to believe that I could pursue earning a doctorate degree. A critical piece of information I learned and always carry with me is that representation matters on all levels, and the ability to see oneself in spaces to enact change is monumental.

Group photo in front of the US CapitalAttending the conference in 2015 helped me develop life-long connections and learn more about my responsibility as an educational advocate. At the beginning of the meeting, as an educator, I constantly questioned my role, purpose, and the reason for my attendance. As a teacher, I did not understand what it meant to be an advocate for my students. During my teacher preparation program and while working in the education field, I lacked the opportunity to learn about my positionality in advocacy. As a result, I wondered how I would fit into the fabric of Day on the Hill. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. In those sessions, I learned how to advocate not only for myself in the capacity of an educator but also for my students of color. I now understand more about the role politicians and lawmakers possess in the shaping of policy. At the end of the conference, I indeed developed the characteristics of an advocate.​           

At the conference this year, I arrived serving in the capacity as the vice president of the Holmes Scholars National Executive Board and as a Holmes Scholar Ph.D. candidate from The Pennsylvania State University. I obtained my identity as an advocate during my first “Day on the Hill.” The conference this year rekindled my passion for speaking on behalf of those whose voices are often missing or silenced. Having the opportunity to practice speaking to policymakers increased my comfortability in speaking with staffers on behalf of AACTE. I was able to refine my message and how I planned to deliver that said message. My take away from the conference was, “Never forget the power of your voice and how your volume increases your impact.” Returning to AACTE’s Day on the Hill has reminded me that my voice still matters and I am inspired to continue advocating for change.


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Azaria Cunningham

William Paterson University

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