A Trailblazer is someone who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo; that the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way we’re going to do it.”
– Andrea Gertz, Salesforce Administrator, National Express
Raven Waters ’19 received her introduction to the Eisenhower Institute when she went to a speaker series to fulfill a requirement for a political science course. The atmosphere cultivated by the discussion gave Waters, an anthropology major and peace & justice studies minor, a riveting feeling that would draw her into being a part of conversations facilitated by the Institute as both a student worker and program participant.
During her time at the Eisenhower Institute, Waters became aware that she was one of few Black woman participants in many of the forums she attended. As for anyone, partaking in a new experience can be especially nerve-wracking when there is an absence of individuals who identify as you do. Nonetheless, Waters broke through the perceptions regarding the Institute and became a trailblazer in her own right. “I have always had one too many positive experiences when I stepped out and into new opportunities because once I decided it was for me, it was.” said Raven—and so she did just that.
While participating in an immersion trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, with other Gettysburg students, Waters had an indescribable feeling. For Waters, it felt as if no time had passed between the late 1950s and 2017 when she and peers traveled to Little Rock Central High School and the neighboring historical landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement. When she noticed a lack of discussion regarding the semblance of towns they visited, she knew that she would have to be the one to make clear the social and political implications, and the gap between legislative ‘progress’ and the reality for the people still living there. Waters realized then how leaders play an integral role in facilitating the dynamics and culture within the atmosphere they inhabit. She knew that although aspects of the trip resonated with her, as a Black woman, differently than with her peers, true examination of our society’s civil rights issues would only be fulfilled with honest discourse. And so, she approached the faculty facilitator and the group began speaking more deeply about the impacts of the trip.
In the years since, the Eisenhower Institute has continued making meaningful changes to facilitate transparent discourse. Waters’s emphasis on reflection and connection are experiences that continue to be emphasized by the Little Rock trip (now part of Inside Civil Rights) and other Eisenhower Institute programming. The Institute’s work to bring about the changes needed for its forward progression is inspired and driven by Waters and other students who have shared their insights and brought their experiences to bear on the questions at hand. And so while progress may occur slowly and at the margins, the Institute’s steady commitment to change encourages students to be trailblazers along the way.
Waters’s astuteness to the importance of having honest forms of discourse and understanding the focal role of a leader has translated into her work with KIPP D.C., a community of high-performing public schools committed to excellence, equity, and justice. Serving as the digital marketing associate for KIPP, Waters curates content for all of their external-facing digital platforms. Uniquely positioned on the Advancement Team, Waters continues to be part of conversations concerning the social, cultural, and academic experiences of KIPP families. Seeing herself in many of the students she works with, Raven intentionally tries to facilitate a work atmosphere of reflection and accountability to ensure her team is best meeting the needs of the community. Having been a student who greatly benefited from robust school resources and their external programs, Waters will not stray from her personal responsibility of showcasing those experiences for the KIPP community to take advantage of. She remains steadfast in her belief that being (or becoming) a leader requires an attentiveness to the role you play and the impact you have, be it for the community around you or yourself.
By Akilah Brown '22
Photos courtesy of Raven Waters '19