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From ADL Intern to Community Leader: Melissa A. Benjamin

  • June 30, 2015

How did you get involved in ADL?

ADL-AWOD did trainings at my high school, Erasmus Hall Campus: High School for Business and Technology.  As a peer trainer, I was given the opportunity to teach various lessons on conflict resolution, diversity, etc. to students at my school, as well as at other school around NYC.  When the opportunity came to apply for the summer internship, I jumped at the chance and was luckily accepted into the program in 1999.  Outside of gaining valuable work experience, we also had weekly sessions where we dove deep into various issues surrounding the fight against hate and respecting diversity in our schools and communities, and tools that we could take back with us in the new school year and beyond.  Later that year, our group was taken to Washington DC and went to the Houlocaust Museum.  It was a sobering yet eye-opening experience to see and hear about this tradegy, and reinforced the need for me to find my own way to make the world a better place.

What does ADL mean to you?

ADL means a great deal to me for a number of reasons.  As a shy 9th grader, becoming a peer trainer helped me break out of my shell, allowing me to become a more confident public speaker, as well as empowering me to be an advocate for change and understanding.  Peer training opened doors to several opportunities for me in my high school, including representing the student body on Brooklyn Student Advisory Council, as well as a leadership committee that included school administration, parents, and members of the community board.  It also gave me the confidence to run and be elected senior class president.

The summer internship was also my first exposure to a professional work environment, but more specifically, my first exposure to the nonprofit sector.  I am forever grateful for the seeds that ADL planted in my life, as I now enjoy a career that marries my talent and interest in event management, with my passion for raising money and awareness for causes I care deeply about.  I am currently the Special Events Manager for Storefront Academy Harlem, a private, tuition-free elementary school serving students in Harlem and the South Bronx.  Knowing that the fundraising events I manage helps students from under-served communities receive a quality education continues to motivate me to do the very best I can on every event.

As a leader in the ADL community, how would you advise others to have a local impact in the fight against hate?

I believe that matching your talents with your passion can help you make a positive impact in your local community.  In my case, I have been able to make a career of making a difference, while still enjoying what I do.  I also encourage people to speak up when you see or hear something negative or hateful occurring around you.  It’s very easy to turn a deaf ear or blind eye to derogatory comments or hateful speech, but it takes courage and diplomacy to be an advocate and ally.