Nina Mago a 2023 Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement. This program is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Nina Mago.
If you have ever tripped at the beginning of a race and had to catch up with the other runners, you’d know what a challenge that can be. That was the start of my Fellowship experience; unwell, exhausted, and not coping well with the change in diet. I made a quick turnaround once I found my footing and began my journey.
Like many who travel to different places for the first time, I was excited but still anxious about what it was going to be like and the culture shock I was bound to face. I was never short of questions and all of them were answered. Oklahoma turned out to feel like a quieter version of home and I quickly settled into it. Though, I must say, daylight at 9:30pm took some getting used to.
My host, Megan Roberts, was really welcoming. We enjoyed moments of interaction and took opportunities to experience places together. Moments like the visit to the Oklahoma Zoo made us realize some of the things we had in common and why they meant so much to us all. In addition, we visited art and cultural festivals that created a great learning experience.
My placement with the University of Oklahoma Health Science Centre brought me in contact with some passionate and devoted organizations and people who have been a part of creating change, which speaks to me deeply. My mentors Megan Roberts, Director of the Oklahoma Interdisciplinary Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (OKLEND) Program and Wanda Felty, OKLEND Core Faculty, introduced me to the collaborations bringing products and services together to support people with disabilities. It was an enlightening opportunity and a reminder that we can succeed if we work as one.
Organizations like Sooner Success, Oklahoma Public Schools, Oklahoma Family Network, Putnam City Schools, Epilepsy Foundation, and the Special Olympics had a great impact on me and the work I do with young people living with epilepsy. Creating a sense of belonging has been rooted in the work I do, but being part of the Special Olympics really broadened that outlook to an even bigger community. I absolutely enjoyed the experience, and especially the smiles and reactions of young people having fun.
The disability terrain can be hard to navigate, but I had the advantage of learning from the past and present advocates who have both created a clearer path for me to not only learn from their successes and shortcomings but to make my mark as well. As an advocate, I have had several opportunities to learn and grow. My experience with the Professional Fellowship Program has broadened my understanding of the disability space.
Fittingly, during my time in Washington DC, as my Fellowship came to an end, I came across a purple bench in the hotel, the symbol of inspiration for the organization I founded, the Purple Bench Initiative.