April 2020

By Angela Romans

 

“I just moved to DC. Have any advice for a new DC resident?”

This is how so many of my conversations started in early 2020. For over 20 years in Providence, RI, my work was, for me, an invigorating combination of national and local – keeping one foot firmly rooted in place, and one in understanding and participating in the broader field.  The national always gave me big-picture perspective and broad networks, but the local kept me rooted, knowing that I was making an impact where I lived, that I had skin in this game of making change for the youth and communities at the center of this work.

Then I discovered AchieveMission, an organization working to transform the social sector across the country while sharing my commitment to working in place, and in the process of building a more solid base in DC. I joined the AchieveMission team in the summer while working from Providence. In December, to help strengthen this DC base, I took a leap to DC.

And what a leap!  I jumped into leading a project with the District of Columbia Public Library, one of our largest clients and an institution deeply rooted in the city’s culture and history. Because the project started with a broad set of interviews of staff across the library, I not only got to build relationships, but to feel more connected to this new place. When I asked library staff for advice about living in D.C., they asked me if I had my library card yet, and gave me a tour of my new local library. Those interviews of neighborhood library staff, many of whom grew up in the city and have seen it changed immensely, helped me better understand the deep, rich, and fraught nature of DC’s history.

While I’ve been supporting the library and other DC-based clients around issues of leadership, race equity, and talent, I have found myself “doing the work while doing the work.” This is the first time I’ve been new in a place in over two decades, and it has brought both excitement and intense disequilibrium. In Providence, people sought me out as an “expert” on the local education space. Now, I find myself in a space of deep learning, in partnership and connection with others, about place for the first time in a while.  What does it mean to admit to myself the loss that I feel at no longer being an expert on local resources, relationships, and history? How do I most constructively do the work in this place? And, in the midst of the upheaval of COVID-19, does it even matter?

Today, at this moment, I say, yes, it does. Connection, rootedness, and community are all vital in this incredibly difficult time. While “place” has a continually-shifting meaning in the middle of social distancing and an increasingly virtual world, I’m heartened to find that spring in DC still brings seedlings of learning. During happy hour at a local watering hole a couple months ago, a group of black women pulled me lovingly into their book club. We had our first virtual happy hour meeting earlier this week, and the connection felt so nourishing.  In work with new coaching clients in DC, all the meetings are now virtual, but people thankfully still have advice and insights to share with a new DC resident. So, in this unprecedented moment, while the big picture is changing dramatically by the hour, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue doing work I love and to explore new ways to ground the doing in my new place in a new reality. And the Cherry Blossom Festival will seem even sweeter next year.