By Mercy Volunteer Naiomi Gonzalez, Cincinnati, Ohio
Adapted with permission from Mercy Volunteer Corps
I am a planner. I not only like to know my next direct step to reach a goal, but also the next 10 steps. Ever since I was a teenager, I knew that I wanted a Ph.D. While I often changed my career paths (Did I want to be a pastor? A chaplain? A professor?), what didn’t change was my goal to earn a Ph.D. Not only are Latinx people underrepresented in academia, but, growing up in public housing, I was desperate to succeed, and academia seemed like my best bet in gaining some measure of stability.
In 2018, I seemed close to achieving my goal. I was accepted into a Ph.D. program. The next five to seven years of my life were more or less planned out: two years of course work, a year developing and defending a portfolio, one year of teaching an undergraduate course, and two to three years working and defending my dissertation.
You know what they say about best laid plans…In 2020, mine went awry. Bullying and racism in the Ph.D. program made continuing impossible. I decided to leave with a master’s degree in history and figure out my next moves. However, a dejected spirit and a pandemic seemed to restrict my options. At the time, leaving the Ph.D. program felt like the end of the world.
And yet…it wasn’t. After a year spent volunteering and living at a church camp, I found my way to Mercy Volunteer Corps (MVC). I am currently serving at Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) in Cincinnati and I absolutely love it.
When I left my Ph.D. program, I thought I had to permanently say goodbye to doing research on subjects that I cared deeply about, that I had destroyed my one and only chance to do something both meaningful and enjoyable. I also struggled with feelings of failure. Academia had been the one thing I was good at, and, yet, I hadn’t gotten a doctorate.
But my time at IJPC and MVC has proven me wrong. At IJPC, I am creating a certificate in peace promotion. I combine my deep love of research with writing and teaching others, and I spend my time researching peace, nonviolence, and violence, which are subjects I deeply care about. I do work that might, in some small way, make the world a better, less violent place. And I work in a supportive environment where my coworkers and supervisor believe in me and listen to me.
MVC and my time at IJPC have taught me there is purpose outside of academia. My self-worth need not be tied to what degrees I do or do not have. I have learned that there are people who want to support me and help me succeed. I have also learned the importance of being open to new opportunities and not being so hyperfocused on one course of action.
I don’t know what my future holds. I wish God would tell me, “Hey, Naiomi, after this year you need to do X,Y,Z,” but for some reason, God doesn’t work like that (at least in my life). I do know, that for the next few months, I’ll be working in a job I love in an environment where my supervisor and colleagues believe and support one another. For the next few months, I’ll be working with others to advocate for a more just and nonviolent world. I get to take this time to craft new plans and create new dreams. And that’s a blessing.
See the original blog post on Mercy Volunteer Corps’ website.