A Summer Well-Spent

"Mr. Hairston, can we get extra recess?"

The familiar inquiry entered my eardrums as the day neared completion. After a few persistent attempts from several classmates, the child who posed the question at this particular point must have known that I was about to acquiesce.

"Alright. Let's all line up."

The children bolted to the door and awaited further instruction. The day quickly wrapped up after the second-grade class and I got outside. After I made it back to my house, I had time to reflect on the previous two weeks.

As this point, I was preparing to return to the nation's capital to serve as a summer legal intern for Advancement Project. After the spring semester concluded, I wanted to spend my time constructively, as well as make a few extra dollars to support myself in DC for two months. My mother informed me of an opportunity to serve as a substitute teacher, and I concluded that such a job would be good preparation for my summer internship.

Substitute teaching proved to be an incredibly rewarding personal and professional endeavor, albeit challenging at times. As mentioned earlier, I primarily embarked upon the journey because one of Advancement Project’s programs focuses on education reform; I wanted to obtain first-hand insight into the state of public education to better inform the work I would be doing for the summer.

The experience reminded me that children are incredibly brilliant and creative. They require and deserve educators who are deeply invested in their well-being and development. I constantly saw enthusiasm and curiosity from the children I met over the course of a ten-day period. As an added note, I considered it an honor to serve in the role of substitute teacher as a Black man working in predominantly Black elementary schools.

With all of this knowledge in mind, I boarded a plane to Washington and prepared for the nine-week internship. The first day arrived, and I enthusiastically ventured to the office. After going through a short orientation and meeting some of the staff members, I knew I made the right choice. 

Admittedly, there were several incredibly difficult moments during the summer. In fact, several emotionally challenging incidents occurred back-to-back. McKinney, Kalief Browder, Charleston, and Sandra Bland are just a few examples of what proved to be a bloody summer. Proclamations of 'Black Lives Matter' resonated as loudly as ever, but KKK rallies in the South quickly answered those declarations with great vitriol and hatred.

Despite these events, summer 2015 was an incredible time to be in the District of Columbia. In keeping with my undergraduate tradition, I attended the traditional Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall. The patriotism almost felt tangible. However, as I watched the ornate fireworks, my heart became heavy.

I thought about how the work I’d been doing illuminated the myriad threats to democracy that exist across the nation. North Carolina was the first place to come in mind because I was preparing to travel there with a litigation team from Advancement Project. The historic trial of NC NAACP v. McCrory was scheduled to begin in a week and a half.

The case garnered national attention. Citizens from across the country descended upon Winston-Salem for the first day of the trial on July 13, 2015. I reverently watched the compelling testimony of Rev. Dr. William Barber. The entire day deftly portrayed the landscape of discrimination that had been created by HB 589.

After court adjourned on Monday, my bosses, colleague and I joined thousands of protesters who came to Winston-Salem for another installment of the now-famous Moral Mondays. Activists walked through the streets and loudly proclaimed their opposition to state-supported discrimination. The amount of energy I felt in the space was incredible.

I can’t adequately express how empowering it was for me to return to the place of my birth to continue the fight started by my forebears. I took great pride in standing with the people of North Carolina for such a noble cause. The names and faces of Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker and Stokely Carmichael are permanently inscribed in my mind; their voices and stories continue to push me along the arduous road to freedom, even when it becomes incredibly difficult.

I am humbled by the opportunities that arose during this unparalleled summer job. The staff members at Advancement Project assiduously supported me as I dedicated my efforts to fulfilling the organization’s mission. I will use the lessons I learned during my internship to continue the struggle for true justice and equality. I am thankful for what can only be described as an unforgettable summer.

Andrew Hairston is a 3L at the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA. He served as a summer 2015 legal intern for Advancement Project.