InIt Alum to Watch: Bernadine Desanges
This month, we are spotlighting Bernadine Desanges as our InIt Alum to Watch! YW Boston’s InIt (formerly known as Anytown) is a social justice leadership program for high school students in the Greater Boston area. Bernadine, a former delegate of InIt/Anytown, is currently the Program Manager for Student Development & Leadership Programming at Northeastern University’s John D. O’Bryant African American Institute and recently launched her own brand called BernadineTruth. Read on to learn more about her work and how InIt impacted her life!
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are you up to these days?
Within my roles, I wear many hats as an advisor, mentor, counselor, and workshop facilitator; supporting the retention and advancement of students from the African Diaspora at Northeastern University. Additionally, I am proud to share that I recently launched my own brand: BernadineTruth where I engage with audiences of all ages and demographics to inspire them to unapologetically “Know Your Truths”. and “Speak Your Truths.” through my blogging, spoken word poetry, motivational speaking and workshop facilitation.
I am also excited to announce that I am the first lady of a new Boston based radio show and podcast: The Urban Collective Show. Within this platform, our tagline is “We Do It for The City & The Culture.” As a team of three hosts, we discuss topics related to the Greater Boston urban community with the anticipation of empowering, educating, and connecting the people of our community. Our show’s target audience is millennials and all those who are ready to listen to the heart and soul of Boston as we also highlight individuals, organizations, and movements in Boston. For more information and updates on the show, be sure to subscribe at TheUrbanCollectiveShow.com
Describe your InIt/Anytown experience in one word.
Transformative. Within the short amount of time I experienced at InIt/Anytown, I engaged in dialogues that changed my life for the better. Having had the opportunity to be able to see, hear, and feel the experiences of those who did and did not look like me allowed me to never forget that the world was bigger than me. Whatever I did, and wherever I was doing it; I had to make sure that it was truly for the greater good of humanity.
How has InIt/Anytown impacted the person you are today?
InIt/Anytown impacted the person I am today as I always try to lead with compassion in all that I do. My experience in InIt/Anytown also impacted my interest in developing a more concentrated interest in addressing the educational and economic disparities that plague the marginalized communities within my city and the world. Within my experience at InIt/Anytown, I remember being around peers that were clearly from schools and neighborhoods with amazing resources and opportunities and peers who weren’t as fortunate. All I kept thinking was, how could these differences be so clear and what do our futures (thinking of my peers and myself who did not come from much) look like when comparing those who had and those who did not have? The distinction between opportunity for advancement and cultural capital was made clear by the family trips my peers had or hadn’t taken; the books one did or did not read; the perspectives and critical and social consciousness some of my peers had or didn’t; the ability to use extensive vocabulary words to articulate ourselves or not; and the experiences with trauma and family dynamics that some of my peers and I had encountered compared to those who had—all of which stood out to me a lot.
For the first time, I remembered really thinking about my future while at InIt/Anytown and debating if I had a chance to be somebody. I knew people appreciated my voice and ability to articulate myself and inspire others, but I had a moment where I wondered if I believed that for myself. Being socially and culturally conscious means you understand the limitations and systemic levels of oppression that exist in the realities of this world. As a first-generation, Haitian-American, bi-lingual black girl from a single family low socio-economic background with a single mother raising 3 children in the city of Boston, I was like “wow, I have a lot to overcome if I believe in changing my life for the better, but how?” Education and economic differences stood out to me a lot at InIt/Anytown, and I knew from my experience that I wanted to make a difference in my community, for my people and for myself!
I decided to attend college and earned a full-tuition scholarship to Emmanuel College through the R.I.S.E program (a scholarship designed for students with demonstrated academic and leadership promise that have yet to demonstrate their full potential due to limited resources). My undergraduate experience changed my life for the better and I found myself through education.
I am where I am today because of programs like InIt/Anytown. At an early yet influential stage of my life, I was exposed to a world and topics that impacted my life directly. Racial, social, educational, and economic injustices exist all around us, but I learned to not be defeated by the lessons learned; rather join in with others to be part of the solution and live every day with conscious and ethical morals and values.
What is one InIt/Anytown memory that has stayed with you?
One memory that stayed with me was meeting some people that I would not have met if it were not for InIt/Anytown. While I met so many great people, one person in particular stands out to me: Gail Waterhouse. More than 15 years have gone by since my participation in InIt/Anytown with Gail. Though we do not stay in contact consistently, she has impacted my life a great deal with the heart that she has. From our time at InIt/Anytown, she led a life with such compassion and sympathy for others and has continued to live life that way today.
On December 26, 2017 my family’s house caught fire and my entire family and tenants were displaced. Within minutes of a GoFundMe page a neighbor of mine created on behalf of my family, Gail reached out asking what else can she do for me, IN ADDITION to her and her mother’s monetary contribution to my family. Reaching out to her mother right away, there she and I were days later outside of Blue Hills Library as she gave me bags of winter clothes and sanitary essentials for my relatives in need of clothing as they lived in hotel rooms until a more permanent housing opportunity presented itself. Such kindness, care, and genuine interest in my family after such a traumatic experience reminded me of just how special participants of InIt/Anytown are. Prior to the event that took place with my family, Gail was already considered a friend, however after her commitment to my family and her genuine interest in our wellbeing, Gail has secured her place in my heart forever. She is a living example of what selfless friendship looks like and I am grateful for our friendship and her compassion.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to your younger high school self?
A piece of advice that I would give to my younger high school self would be to love yourself, flaws and all and that life is not about being perfect, it is about accepting yourself as the perfectly imperfect individual that you are. It’s easy to think you aren’t good enough and to allow insecurities and a comparison of yourself to others get in the way of you rising to your fullest potential. Remember in that moment that is crucial that you silence the outside noises that say you can’t and focus on the voice that says and believes that you can. Everyone struggles and in life, you have to live through your own experiences and commit to your growth as you undergo the journey to be the best you that you can be and not stand on the sidelines watching life pass you by.
Lastly, life is not about going through the experiences on your own. Talking and speaking your truths to your loved ones and allowing others to be there for you during your times of need in addition to your times of accomplishments will make the journey that much more meaningful. You are special, you are brave, you are smart, you matter, and you will defy the odds every day! The days that seem the darkest are the days that will bring you the most light when you make it through. Young soul, you got this! Go out there, be great, and continue to flourish; never allowing anyone, including yourself to dim your light.
Thank you, Bernadine for sharing your lessons learned and for being our awesome featured InIt alum of the month!
Inspired by this interview? Are you a high school student who wants to be a part of InIt Class of 2018 – 2019?
Applications are now open! Apply here or email Lin at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.