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Civic Scholar Mariah Davis ’24: Work with Gephardt Institute has “lit a fire in me”

Mariah Davis ’24, a Kleinhandler Civic Scholar, reflects on her civic journey during her time working with the Gephardt Institute. The following essay by Davis exemplifies the Gephardt Institute’s goal of empowering and challenging students to meet the issues facing our society with passion, care and, above all, hope for the future. 

The American experiment of democracy is being tested. As we navigate this difficult civic moment, it’s important to understand that we did not arrive in this moment by accident. All of us—and those who came before us—we built this division. Don’t despair at the thought that the evils we presently contend with were constructed by those before us. For if we take an honest look at the past, we can see how our present inequities were built, and we can see a pathway to an equitable and just future. 

Mariah Davis ’24 is a Kleinhandler Civic Scholar.

We can build a solution! In fact, that work is being done. Communities that have been harmed by our society have power that they have been asserting – and will continue to assert. This can be seen across the United States. We must pay attention to this power and uplift the work already being done. 

We must not get stuck in the cycle of hopelessness, and fool ourselves into believing that our country is doomed. We must support our communities. To those doing grassroots work, it is important to celebrate wins upstream. To those doing upstream work, celebrate every grassroots win.  

There is no small win. Every win has the potential to cause a storm of goodness!  

The Gephardt Institute has been integral in teaching me these lessons by expanding my education beyond the walls of my classrooms. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with civic leaders from a range of industries; intern full-time with the Alzheimer’s Association; take a four-day immersion trip through the greater St. Louis region; listen to the stories of neighborhood leaders about the issues that matter to them; prepare for my Civic Summer project to examine public engagement with water safety issues in Michigan; and engage in difficult but necessary dialogue with peers I would not have met otherwise who come from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and perspectives. These experiences will shape my life no matter how my career path evolves.  

Inspired by these lessons, I urge you to continue doing your part to equip the communities that build our nation. I press you to continue learning about social justice movements you may not understand. Keep opening your minds, your ears, and your hearts. Keep inviting people to the table.  

If our future is bleak, it is only because we smothered progress by our refusal to be uncomfortable. And it is only our inertia that keeps us from actively pursuing the bold promises of our democracy.  

The Gephardt Institute has lit a fire in me. And there are 18 years’ worth of students and alumni like me whose fire has been lit by the Gephardt Institute—and who are creating ripples all over the world.  

Because of the Gephardt Institute, I know how to move from despair to hope, and I know how to get unstuck and move into action. I am motivated, I am prepared, and I am excited to live in a world that’s been impacted by current and future generations of Gephardt alumni.