When poetry meets politics: Ayomide Oloyede looks back on his congressional internship in Washington

Content Warning: This article contains a graphic depiction of gun violence.

The summer of 2022 was perhaps one of the most important and politically tense periods in recent American history. From the annulment of Roe v. Wade, who had protected women’s right to choose since 1973, the January 6 hearings and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the American public grappled with some of the most profound shifts in the political landscape. from the country. . The nation also mourned the loss of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which prompted the historic passage of bipartisan gun legislation in June.

Sophomore Ayomide Oloyede was where it all happened this summer, seeing history unfold before his eyes, in real time. As an intern with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, D.C., Oloyede worked for Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), attending over 100 seminars and meetings for the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Oloyede also drafted letters, policy briefs and statements to fellow colleagues, working closely with his chief of staff and his team throughout.

One of the most memorable moments of his internship, Oloyede cited, was attending the January 6 hearing in person.

“I was like, ‘I watched this on TV. Now I’m in the room,’ Oloyede said. had seen [on C-SPAN]. I am in this room. I’m in the row next to the row they reserve for congressmen. I look at Sheila Jackson Lee, a representative from Houston, right there. We walked out of the room together and took a selfie. I’m 18 in DC, and I was literally like, ‘Wow, this isn’t real. I have to pinch myself. … It was crazy.

CBCF’s prestigious summer internship is open to sophomores through recent graduates, Oloyede explained, and the program includes free housing on Capitol Hill with a $3,000 stipend and Metro credit.

Oloyede first heard about the internship from one of his professors at Tufts, Kaitlin Kelly-Thompson, who also wrote his letter of recommendation for the program.

“[She] was a teacher that I had [in the] first semester [of college] and I really, really liked it, so I took another one of his classes the next semester,” Oloyede said. “She had just thought of me while she was at a conference and [told me that] “I heard about it,” and she sent it to me. »

At its core, the CBCF aims to uplift and empower the next generation of black leaders by exposing them to the legislative process on the ground, according to Oloyede. Oloyede added that his roommate for the program, Noah Harris, was the first black man student body president in Harvard College’s 386-year history and also a Truman Scholar, who will attend Harvard Law School in 2024.

As one of the youngest members of the cohort, Oloyede initially felt like he was somehow unworthy and inadequate to be part of the program.

“I felt I was wasting the gift I had: the gift I received for being part of this program. I was wasting it because I was so young,” Oloyede said. “[I questioned,] ‘Am I really worthy of being in this space? Can I network? Do I even know how to talk to people? Am I enough to be in this space? I really struggled with that for a very long time.

Ultimately, it was a sense of togetherness – fueled by a shared vulnerability within the group – that allowed Oloyede to be fully present in the moment, helping him articulate his vision and ideas for the future.

“We would sit in our apartment, on the couches, and just talk. … A person would say, ‘I feel inadequate in this space,’” Oloyede said. “And we would say, ‘This is how we handle this, this is how we navigate it, [and] you deserve to be here.

Throughout his internship, Oloyede discovered his voice and his power as a writer, in particular by exploring the interdependence of politics and poetry.

“As a poet of the spoken word, I write to speak it, which is different [from] a written poem where you write so that anyone who reads it understands everything you mean by the words [alone]“said Oloyede. “I write with the goal of people getting the sense of inflection, body movement, facial expression. … You have to see me play it, because that’s what it was made to do. So I wrote my statements like [they were] a speech.”

Oloyede shared that three of his statements were published in the Congressional Record, which helped translate his poetic language into his works on the Hill.

“[Policy] the memos were difficult for me to write, but… I had fun with the statements. …With the statements, I was able to use the descriptive nature of my art, and the metaphor is central [of my statements]“said Oloyede. “I wrote one for the Soul Children of Chicago, which I believe is the youngest Grammy Award-winning youth choir…and I had a great time with it, because I just gotta go. add so much energy. So that really influenced me and made me – art made me write speeches better.

For Oloyede, politics is not just about analyzing or dissecting numbers because there is a story attached behind every number.

“I often try to approach the issue as a citizen, as a person, because a tendency on the Hill is to forget what it is to be a person,” Oloyede said. “You get into legalese so much, you get into all these different things that you forget how it affects someone. … The tax is not just a tax — it is money that a struggling family might have to find, which could come from their income. It’s not just tax money, it’s groceries, it’s a house.

In this context, Oloyede’s view of politics also shaped and influenced his poetry, further expanding the scope of his writing.

“[Politics] made me tackle more difficult subjects [more often].” said Oloyede. “Because I was on Capitol Hill…and with everything going on, I was like, ‘I need to find some time to write. ‘Cause I’ll never be right now, right now, never again.'”

Indeed, poetry has helped Oloyede deal with some of the most difficult news and events as an individual, including the Uvalde shooting and its aftermath.

“There was a poem that… [made] I want to tear my hair out. And I couldn’t go on with that. I had the idea, and I couldn’t go on because I was at a loss for words,” Oloyede said. “While I was on the Hill, they heard a gun reform about the Uvalde shooting, and they had the parents of a girl who died during the shooting testify. And they had video testimony from one of the girls who smeared her best friend’s blood all over her body and pretended to be dead, in order to survive and not be shot by the shooter.

Oloyede shared that although he was unable to complete this particular poem, writing it helped him process one of the most difficult times on the Hill.

“The premise of the poem was, ‘I wonder if the parents of the students who were shot and died, I wonder if they knew that morning when they dressed their child for school with their fancy shoes and outfits, that they would dress them up for a funeral,” he said. “I wonder if they knew, you know, I wonder… because obviously they never could have known. …You wear fancy clothes for an occasion, and they dress their children [on] this day. I imagine those smiling children and the parents taking pictures, and I wonder if they knew they were dressing them for their funeral. And that’s how politics influenced my art: it put me at the center and forced me to reckon with heartbreaking things.

Poetry was also with Oloyede through some of the happiest moments of his internship, including when he found himself in Vogue, as he inaugurated the wedding of Symone Sanders, the host of MSNBC’s “Symone.” In this way, Oloyede reflected that the poetry helped him “squeeze” the moments for his “authentic emotional portrayal” throughout his journey.

“I want [also] trying to write poetry about something that made me happy, and there were a lot of things that made me happy in DC… I met some really, really cool people – I met Nancy Pelosi I once danced with Joyce Beatty, the President of the Black Caucus Congress, and… I drove Joyce Beatty in a golf cart to [a] golf tournament,” Oloyede said. “So many good things happened in the midst of all this chaos, and so I wanted my poetry to reflect some of the good things that were happening.”

As a first-generation student and Questbridge Scholar at Tufts, Oloyede emphasized that this summer’s opportunity would not have been possible without the help of his family, friends, mentors and, most importantly, for him , of God.

“I can only attribute [my success] to the people that God put in my life,” he said.

In this regard, Oloyede added that his mother often compared him to a seed and that with the help of God and the people in his life, he must bear fruit. Informed and inspired by this metaphor, Oloyede reflected on his personal journey so far.

“I am a seed and people watered me, people gave me soil, people worked on me in the sun, people pruned me – they cut off the bad parts, they cut all things that needed to go, and when the ground was dry in one area, they picked me up and took me to fertile ground, and they replanted me,” Oloyede said. ‘a dead leaf grew, they cut it. I am a seed and I want them to see that I am the product of all that [they] have done for me.

Quite symbolically for Oloyede, the last day of his internship, July 30, was also his birthday, metaphorically opening a new chapter in his life.

Entering his second year at Tufts, Oloyede is the Tufts Community Union First community Senator, a scholar Tisch and he also plans to get involved in the university’s theater department.

Overall, Oloyede shared his excitement as he begins a new school year at Tufts.

“I will understand better when I enter these courses in political science and international relations [this year], because I was there,” Oloyede said. “If I take a course in American politics, I’ll be able to get so much more and contextualize it better than I could if I didn’t have that experience.”

Going forward, Oloyede hopes to advocate for people and communities in Tufts and beyond, in light of his experiences and insights on the Hill.

“Somebody come up to me and say, ‘Ayo, I really have this problem’, and I can say, ‘Don’t even worry about it. … I’ll take care of you.’ This is what I want so badly,” Oloyede said.

From such a vantage point, Oloyede developed his understanding of leadership, inspired and driven by the question, “How can I help you?” which has guided his journey thus far, including his internship in Washington DC

“[Leadership] is service. It’s something that’s been hammered into me since high school, the concept of servant leadership, where you lead people by serving them,” Oloyede said. “And that goes back to gratitude. I don’t want to lead by telling you what to do, [and] I don’t want to lead by telling you what you need. I want to lead by listening to what you need and then trying to do it.

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