Friday, July 11, 2014


Two years ago, David Mazor dropped me off three hours west of Albuquerque, a mile and a half up in the high desert. It rained that evening. It was quiet, and the air smoldered with the smell of sage. I'd asked David a hundred times that summer what I would do here. He said that I'd find out when I came. I'd listen and I'd know.

To my last day, I couldn't really tell you what my job was. My business cards say "Navajo Nation Outreach Coordinator." I didn't know that I'd:

- witness a dozen students improve their creative writing through our weekly Writers' Workshop meetings and celebrate their progress with a year-end, well-attended CoffeeHaus

- raise average school-wide ACT scores from 25% below NM and AZ state averages to above state and national averages

- watch an endless stream of books and resources from Reader to Reader fill classrooms and libraries

- travel around the Navajo Nation with the Office of the First Lady to deliver college readiness materials and addresses

- work with the incredible board of the Miss Navajo Council, an organization that mobilizes former pageant winners to give back to their communities

- learn to make frybread (poorly)

- watch my freshmen grow in their writing abilities and put together a magazine of their work

- prepare my shyest students for scholarship interviews

- take the Writers' Workshop to hear writing advice and performances by Luci Tapahonso, Navajo Nation Poet Laureate

- see 97% of SMIS' class of 2014 go on to college

- grow to love those seniors like my own siblings

- and be heartbroken to see them go

... and much more.

My last two years with Reader to Reader won't be my last in the Navajo Nation. Through working with Reader to Reader, I've become interested in ethical, efficient management. This fall, I'm headed to the Yale School of Management to get an MBA with a focus on social enterprise and nonprofit management. After my program, I plan to return to the reservation and work on a project to improve food sovereignty. There - now that I've said it, all of you can hold me accountable.

This post is more about me than I would've liked. Still, it's hard to extricate myself from my last two years. On some level, I want to talk strictly about the honor it has been to represent Reader to Reader in what has become my surrogate home, and what more we could watch unfurl and progress. But that wasn't all. It hasn't become a home because of improved statistics and partnerships formed. We shared a mission, and we fought for it, and we grew to love and respect each other because we did our best to listen. After all, that was my first instruction on the job.

The Navajo Nation is often characterized by poverty and hardship, but that's merely one facet of a diamond. I'm learning to listen, and in these last two years, that listening has allowed me to witness the intense dedication and talent of others, and to learn more than I thought possible. Every day, I'm humbled anew.

On my last night, my friends and I slept on the roof of our trailer. We had unexpected company - friends from over the hill. They talked, and we listened. We talked, and they listened. It grew late, and wind rattled the brush. Our dogs howled and took off across the field, and the cows lowed. A mile and a half closer to the stars, am I any closer to hearing supernovae? Three hours west of Albuquerque, does the universe seem silent, or can I incline my heart to the glory of stars being born, of giants rising, of light unceasing to illuminate the darkest corridors?

--Ophelia Hu

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