“Appreciating the platforms upon which I stand” – Reflections from the ERC’s Inaugural Macdonell/Gibson Intern
By Mary Kett
August 30, 2023
The ERC created the Macdonell/Gibson Internship Program earlier this year to honor and preserve the legacies of Rev. James Macdonell and James O. Gibson, two former ERC board members who had tremendous impacts on the organization, D.C. region, and broader civil rights movements. I stepped into my role as the inaugural Macdonell/Gibson intern in June, and now, as I complete my twelfth and final week with the ERC, I’d like to reflect on my experience this summer.
One of my main tasks during this internship was to conduct interviews with people who knew and worked with Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson to learn more about their contributions to the ERC. In a recent interview with ERC Board Member and Secretary Sue Marshall, we discussed the ways that young people can carry on the legacies of outstanding civil rights advocates like Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson. “I think you’re taking a key step,” Sue said to me, “which is to appreciate the history and the platforms upon which you stand.” Over the course of the summer, I gained critical knowledge about the platforms I stand on as an ERC intern, including the extraordinary work of Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson.
In an interview with Rabbi Bruce Kahn, former executive director of the ERC, I asked about how to carry on Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson’s legacies in the continued fight for equal rights. He quoted baseball legend Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and it ain’t anywhere near over.” He continued, “Know that you’re as necessary today as we were in the 80s and 90s. There’s no less need for you than there was for us.” Rabbi Kahn reminded me that no victory is final. Civil rights require constant protection, and our work today is just as important as it was when the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington was first established forty years ago.
Through these interviews, I quickly learned that Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson were loved not only for their civil rights achievements, but also their character, and how they treated others. Each person I spoke with emphasized the integrity, passion, and kindness that both men possessed. This aspect is key to carrying on their legacies and key to understanding “the platforms upon which I stand.” I will undoubtedly carry that lesson with me as I navigate my personal life and career in the coming years.
In addition to conducting these interviews, I spent time this summer researching language access laws throughout the country, sourcing news articles about civil rights issues for our weekly newsletter, and assisting with testing projects. There was always something new, thought-provoking, and exciting for me to learn during my time here. One of my main goals as an intern was to learn as much as I could, and with the help of ERC staff, I can confidently say I met this goal.
Of course, my central goal was to advance the missions of Rev. Macdonell and Mr. Gibson. Soon, we’ll publish an archive page on the ERC website honoring their lives and showcasing my interviews among other materials. I am hopeful that by educating the public about their work, we will inspire more people to get involved in civil rights activism. As Rabbi Kahn told me, the fight is far from over.
The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org