Week 1 - Beginning our NJLP Legacy

By: Eshika Kaul

“Don’t be surprised if you don’t do anything. It’s common to not have work to do on the first day,” my all-knowing brother ironically called after me when I exited the car. As I walked up to the door, the swirl of anticipation, excitement, and nervousness mixing in my head caused me to think of possible scenarios of what was to occur during that day. Would I indeed not do anything?  This could not have been further from the truth.

When I walked in, I was immediately disarmed by the warm smiles and relaxed nature of the environment and was quickly introduced to Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak’s Chief of Staff, Shariq Ahmad. Although at first, I was nervous around him, as he seemingly knew everything from the federal issues to the numbers of the State Senate Bills, he immediately took me under his wing. I was able to prove my wise brother wrong by doing so many new and important jobs like drafting letters for mayors, finding bills, and doing research on marijuana distributors. By the end of the day, as I exited the building, I felt incredibly confident and empowered, I never felt so tired yet accomplished! My worry that I would not be able to make an actual impact politically was completely eradicated.

However, on Saturday morning — the day I would meet the other New Jersey Leadership Program Fellows, I did not feel this same sentiment. I was a bit skeptical whether my fellow peers would share the same passion I felt for changing the world through the government. Perhaps my passions were unrealistic and unfounded. I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate enthusiasm and awareness displayed by my peers, not to mention the rich understanding and knowledge that the NJLP Executive Board was able to impart upon us.

As we discussed everything from our plans for the summer to whether webelieve Central Jersey is real (it is!), we clearly bonded over our passion for changing society and helping people through government. Through Amman Seehra’s presentation of leveraging diversity, we were able to take the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument test to compare and contrast our thinking preferences. We learned that although always clumped and stereotyped as one South Asian collective, we are incredibly diverse in thought and each individually brings something different to the table.

Throughout the day, I was in awe of my South Asian peers, seeing them in a completely new light. Although Brandon McKoy, the Director of Government and Public Affairs at New Jersey Policy Perspective gave an enlightening presentation on New Jersey government, I learned more from specific and interesting questions asked by the fellows than I did from any statistics and facts. They pushed for not only the reasons and extent of New Jersey’s terrible financial state but asked for possible solutions. During lunch, as we practiced our “elevator speeches,” we were able to learn from each other’s mistakes while listening to some of the most interesting and unique aspects of each other.

The peak of the day, the culmination of all the work we had done and would do in the next 6 weeks was discussing the Capstone Project, our own NJLP legacy. When discussing ideas for this large endeavor, I was surprised to know that many of the fellows shared the same feelings that I did regarding South Asian interest in government. Our ideas were incredibly ambitious (we even wanted to go to places of worship like temples to get more South Asians registered to vote), and while our plan is not set in stone, I’m left with the hope that we can leave a positive impact in our South Asian community.

The confidence and appreciation I gained from my first few days as an NJLP fellow has been invaluable. These first steps are just the beginning of our journey into developing ourselves into the leaders of tomorrow.