Sophia Wood ’21
Major: Comparative Ethnic Studies
Minor: African and African Diaspora Studies
I completed a virtual internship with Kai Gardner-Mishlove through Advocate Aurora Health during the Spring 2021 semester. Dr. Rachel Buff, Program Coordinator for my major Comparative Ethnic Studies, recommended this opportunity to me. I had a phone interview with Kai in which we discussed her goals for the internship as well as my interests and expectations.
The refugees she connects with are primarily from the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Venezuela, and Somalia. At the time, she was beginning the process of starting a cooperative for chef and artisan refugees in the Milwaukee area to advance their entrepreneurship and increase community engagement.
My research focused on the foundation of worker cooperatives; business structures, tax set up, funding opportunities, and the role of community. I learned about what tangible resources are available in our city, our state, and in a global context for individuals and organizations that visualize a world where everyone has autonomy. The funding options I found were specifically geared towards business owners that face racial, gender, and class barriers in pursuing their passions. Kiva loans, for example, do not require a financial application or credit check in order to receive loans; there is no interest for the lender or borrower, everything is centered around your community members as “co-signers” to provide access to individual and business lenders around the world. Amplifying the accessibility of these network-oriented platforms is a step in the direction of dismantling white supremacist hierarchies and following the race work ideologies that Black Women have been practicing for centuries.
I decided to pursue this internship opportunity because I wanted to have a better understanding of action items and local organizations that align with the ideologies I have studied in African & African Diaspora Studies, Ethnic Studies, and even Studio Art. Putting this knowledge into practice requires relationships and resources in one’s various networks and communities as well as acute awareness of how your actions and privileges can sway the balance. Reflecting on this experience, I feel that I have a broader list of places to direct my resources towards and also the ability to connect other people to these networks. Diverting energy away from racist systems of credit, loans, and typical investors is an actionable concept that I can learn more about and practice going forward.