“Clemente was the opposite of the experience I had in public school. Everyone was there on purpose and excited to learn. These were college professors giving us college-level work, not dumbing it down. They respected our intelligence and advanced it. From the moment I stepped into that class, they made me feel that I was worthy. Knowing and being made to feel that we belong and that our voice and intelligence matter made all the difference.”
Meet Jewel Walcott
One thing that’s clear about Jewel Walcott is that she never stops learning. A graduate of the course in Kingston, NY—where she was selected commencement speaker the following year—Jewel carries a notebook with her wherever she goes. “I use it to write down random thoughts,” she says, “or I watch a movie and find myself unintentionally writing an essay about it. My Clemente writing instructor gave me permission to express myself on paper.”
These days, Jewel finds herself creating learning opportunities for others as well. Last year after attending a screening of the film Selma with kids from her church youth group, she asked them what their generation’s cause was. They didn’t know. Jewel believes so strongly that young people should be using their voices that she and her business partner organized a Rock the Vote event.
Meet Jewel Walcott
Held at the Culinary Institute of America in nearby Hyde Park, NY, with speakers from the Democrat and Republican parties, as well as a keynote from County Executive Marcus Molinaro, the event drew young people from all over the area. Forty people registered to vote that night, in time for the 2016 presidential election.
“Clemente definitely encouraged us to be civically engaged, to take information and apply it to make an impact,” she says. “It encouraged me to continue doing that work."
For Jewel, this means supporting young people in building good lives. She recognized that there wasn’t much workforce training available locally for those who didn’t go to college. Since she and her partner in an event planning business, Blueprint Consulting, have lots of experience in the hospitality industry, they decided to change that. They piloted a 10-week training covering topics like food handling, customer service, resume writing, and even a pop-up café. The program is licensed through the New York Labor Department and is set to run its second class in the spring.
Those who knew Jewel as a young person wouldn’t be surprised to hear she’s making such a difference in her community. She graduated third in her high school class, was in the National Honor Society, and began college at Temple University in Philadelphia in 2000. But she lacked the funding and support to graduate. She actually spent her first semester without money for books, somehow eking by without them. After two years at Temple, she withdrew.
“Everyone I knew expected me to graduate college and do great things, so I felt like a failure and was very disappointed in myself,” she says. “Clemente restored my faith in my ability to learn. It was my second chance to prove something to myself.”
In addition to her community involvement, Jewel works in the Bard College Development Office, where she handles all receipts, writes gift acknowledgement letters, and assists the Director of Parent Programs Director. She got the job after graduating from Clemente when she spotted two women with Bard badges at an event and introduced herself. “I mentioned that I was a proud Clementine,” she said, referring to the nickname many Clemente students and faculty use. “One woman said they had some openings. I looked into it and felt that Bard was the right fit.”
At Bard and in the community, Jewel demonstrates her commitment to learning and creating opportunities for others. Marina van Zuylen, Jewel’s professor and Academic Director of the Bard Clemente Course says, “To me, Jewel embodies the Clemente philosophy: every human being should be allowed a way out of his or her inner and outer constraints, and what better than the humanities to jump start this process?”
In Their Own Words
“I found out that I could do college work. This gave me a brand new confidence. It made me realize that if I wanted something, I can go out and work hard to get it! My mindset, my being, my world—and future generations of my family—have been changed by this one community program. I thank the Clemente Course for that.”
Meet Kafi Dixon
Kafi Dixon is the founder of Seeds of Change, an organization that allows individuals to come together to purchase food items collectively from local farms and wholesale distributors.
I never went to high school. I was homeless; it was just too hard. When I was 16, I got pregnant and had my first daughter, and then when I was 19 I had my second daughter. Over the years I was ashamed because I didn’t have an education. I started several small businesses; a bedding shop, a farm stand, anything to get away without having to explain that I don’t have a GED. It was like this dirty little secret I was carrying around.
Meet Kafi Dixon
I really wanted to start a farm, but I needed a business plan to do that. I was paralyzed. I was unable to communicate my ideas for this business in writing. I’m more than capable of running a business, but I lacked confidence to write the plan, and I didn’t have networks of people I could turn to that had skills in writing, research or business planning.
That’s when I found Clemente. Clemente took my natural abilities and shined them so that others could see them. The professors and my fellow students also pushed me to recognize my own strengths.
Before Clemente, a simple question like “tell us about yourself” was enough to discourage me from completing an application or a business plan. I had gotten off of welfare; I had raised children who went to college. But I was ashamed of my story because I didn’t have an education. Through Clemente I gained the skills I needed to write that business plan, and I was able to start The Women of Color Cooperative Farm in Boston. More importantly, I gained the confidence to interact with people across class and cultural lines.