Open Letter to D.C. Youth

By Farhana Hussain, Urban Alliance Alumna -- Class of 2010-2011

D.C. Youth:

I would like to begin this letter by saying that I owe Urban Alliance my life. I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment that housed a family of four for 20-years in a relatively decent neighborhood. I went to all of the typical DCPS schools and loafed just as much as any D.C. kid. I certainly did not have the best grades and most definitely failed the SATs more times than I care to remember. My junior and senior years were the rockiest and most stressful years that I had faced.

I hadn't the foggiest idea as to what my plans were for the summer let alone for my life. With my grades and SAT scores, I wasn't sure if I could make it to college or get a job. I knew I wanted to enter the field of International Affairs, but I did not know how to get there or whether or not I could. By junior year, I had a serious case of FOBLO (Fear of Being Left Out, it's a thing [trust]) and it sat on my heart as I realized that as much as I loved D.C., I needed to get the hell out.

Stressed about my future, my friend who was a senior at the time told me that he was interning at the World Bank with a program called Urban Alliance (UA). Immediately, I perked up and tried to apply, but much to my dismay, I missed the deadline. Determined not to loaf on my life again, the minute applications opened I applied. UA interviewed me and gave me a chance; things were starting to look up.

I participated in trainings on networking, office etiquette and communication skills, among other essential professional tools. While I did not end up at the World Bank, I was afforded the incredible opportunity to intern at Fannie Mae, the largest corporation in the U.S. housing and mortgage market. My internship began at the height of the first debt-ceiling crisis at a giant enterprise that served as a core failure to the 2008 housing market meltdown. I spent my summer writing research papers on the 2008 Financial Crisis, the debt ceiling, and the recurring disappointments that are more commonly referred to as our representatives.

The hands-on experience was eye opening, I had never expressed any interest in domestic issues, but I began to grow frustrated by the lack of action in our own city. Disinterested politicians too focused on filibustering and getting re-elected disgusted me, they were too busy to clean up their own backyard. The ever-present disconnect separating Washington from D.C. continues to exacerbate the failure of our institutions and further illuminates the need to reconcile the two. My experience at Fannie Mae laid the groundwork for my entry into politics and international affairs. UA had reinforced my desire to enter the field and provided me with the opportunity to do so -- for which I am eternally grateful.

While there are opportunities in D.C., they are often hard to gain access to. It is with UA that I was afforded the tools to push pass the institutionalized and often self-made boundaries that we, as D.C. youth, so often enclose ourselves in. It is with the undying support of UA's incredible staff, specifically Jazmyn Singleton, the Alumni Services Director of UA, that doors open to possibilities once never imagined.

The organization has connected me to not only those in the field, but also to job opportunities in major agencies in the U.S. The staff at UA always has its students in mind. Upon finishing the high school program, Ms. Jazmyn connected me with an opportunity at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). So began my second UA journey at USAID with the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs (OAPA), where I gained first-hand experience in my field of interest. I applied my experience in my courses at Northeastern University, where experiential learning is a core mission. It even provided me the opportunity to serve as an Undergrad Teaching Assistant at my university for the director of Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development and co-op at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

The question is not why to join, but why wouldn't you?

Steve Jobs once said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever." If anything is true in the world, Urban Alliance has taught me to fail fast and fail forward - unequivocally, the most important lesson I ever learned. There will always be bumps in the road, but you have to trust and invest in yourself so that UA can do the same.

Thank you Urban Alliance. I owe you more than one.

Soldier on,

Farhana Hussain

Farhana Hussain is a Sophomore at Northeastern University studying International Affairs with a concentration in Middle East studies. She is currently participating in a co-op at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) where she assists the program staff on fellowships and projects, including the Knight International Journalism Fellowships. Before joining ICFJ, Hussain served as an undergrad teaching assistant to Denis Sullivan, Director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Northeastern University. She has also worked at USAID's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, Fannie Mae, Health Volunteers Overseas, and the Student Conservation Association.