Content warning: This article contains a graphic description of gun violence.
The summer of 2022 might have been one of the most consequential and politically fraught times in recent American history. From the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had protected women’s right to choose since 1973, to the Jan. 6 hearings and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the American public wrestled with some of the most profound changes in the nation’s political landscape. The nation also mourned the loss of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which prompted the historic passage of bipartisan gun legislation in June.
Ayomide Oloyede, a sophomore, was where it all happened this summer, witnessing history unfold before his eyes, in real time. As a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation intern in Washington, D.C., Oloyede worked for Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), attending over 100 seminars and meetings for the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Oloyede also drafted Dear Colleague Letters, policy memos and statements, working closely with his chief of staff and team throughout.
One of the most memorable moments from his internship, Oloyede cited, was attending the Jan. 6 hearing in person.
“I was like, ‘I watched this on TV. Now I’m in the room,’” Oloyede said. “Somebody just texted me and said that they saw me [on C-SPAN]. I am in this room. I am in the row next to the row that they reserve for members of Congress. I’m looking at Sheila Jackson Lee, a representative from Houston, right there. We walked out of the room together and took a selfie. I am 18 in D.C., and I literally was like, ‘Woah, this is not real. I have to pinch myself.’ … It was insane.”
The CBCF’s prestigious summer internship is open for rising college sophomores to recent graduates, Oloyede explained, and the program includes free housing on Capitol Hill with a $3,000 stipend and Metro credit.
Oloyede first heard about the internship through one of his professors at Tufts, Kaitlin Kelly-Thompson, who also wrote his letter of recommendation for the program.
“[She] was a professor that I had [in the] first semester [of college] and I had really, really liked, and so I took another class of hers the next semester,” Oloyede said. “She had just thought of me while she was at a conference and [told me that] ‘I heard about this,’ and she sent it to me.”
At its core, the CBCF is about uplifting and empowering the next generation of Black leaders by exposing them to the legislative process on the ground, according to Oloyede. Oloyede added that his roommate for the program, Noah Harris, was the first Black male student body president in Harvard College’s 386-year history and also a Truman Scholar, who will attend Harvard Law School in 2024.
As one of the youngest members of the cohort, Oloyede initially felt as though he was somehow undeserving and inadequate to be a part of the program.
“I felt that I was wasting the gift that I had: The gift that I was given to be a part of this program. I was wasting it because I was so young,” Oloyede said. “[I questioned,] ‘Am I really worthy to be in this space? Can I network? Do I even know how to talk to people? Am I enough to be in this space?’ I really wrestled with that for a really long time.”
Ultimately, it was a sense of solidarity — fostered by shared vulnerability within the group — that enabled Oloyede to be fully present in the moment, thereby helping him to articulate his vision and ideas for the future.
“We would sit in our apartment, on the couches, and we would just talk. … One person would be like, ‘I feel inadequate in this space,’” Oloyede said. “And we would be like, ‘Here’s how we deal with that, here’s how we navigate that, [and] you deserve to be here.’”
Throughout his internship, Oloyede discovered his voice and power as a writer, especially as he explored the interconnectedness of politics and poetry.
“As a spoken word poet, I write to speak it, which is different [from] a written poem where you write so that somebody who’s reading it will get everything that you mean from the words [alone],” Oloyede said. “I write with the purpose of people getting the meaning from inflection, body movement, facial expression. … You have to see me perform it, because that’s what it was made to do. So I wrote my statements as if [they were] a speech.”
Oloyede shared that three of his statements have been published into the Congressional record, which helped translate his poetic language into his works on the Hill.
“[Policy] memos were hard for me to write, but … I had a ball with the statements. … With the statements, I was able to use the descriptive nature of my art, and the metaphor is in the center [of my statements],” Oloyede said. “I wrote one for the Soul Children of Chicago, which I believe is the youngest Grammy Award-winning youth choir … and I had a really good time with it, because I just got to add so much energy into it. So that really influenced and made me — art made me write speeches better.”
For Oloyede, politics is not simply about analyzing or dissecting the numbers as there is a story attached behind every number.
“I often try to look at the issue as a citizen, as a person, because a tendency of the Hill is to forget what it’s like to be a person,” Oloyede said. “You get so into the legal jargon, you get into all these different things that you forget how this affects somebody. … The tax is not just a tax — that’s money that a family that may be struggling might have to come up with, that might be coming out of their income. That is not just tax money, that’s groceries, that’s a home.”
In this context, Oloyede’s view of politics has also shaped and influenced his poetry, further extending the scope of his writing.
“[Politics] made me touch on harder topics [more often].” Oloyede said. “Because I was in the Capitol … and with all this stuff happening, I was like, ‘I need to find some time to write. Because I will never be in this moment, at this time, ever again.’”
Indeed, poetry helped Oloyede grapple with some of the most challenging news and events as an individual, including the Uvalde shooting and its aftermath.
“There was one poem that … [made] me want to rip my hair out. And I could not continue with it. I had the idea, and I could not continue with it because I was at a loss for words,” Oloyede said. “While I was on the Hill, they had a gun reform hearing about the Uvalde shooting, and they had the parents of a girl who died during the shooting come testify. And they had a video testimony of one of the girls who smeared the blood of her best friend on her body and pretended to be dead, to survive and not be shot by the shooter.”
Oloyede shared that while he did not get to finish this particular poem, writing it helped him process one of the most difficult moments on the Hill.
“The premise of the poem was, ‘I wonder if the parents of the students who got shot and died, I wonder if they knew that morning, when they dressed their child up for school in their fancy footwear and fancy outfits, that they would be dressing them up for a funeral,’” he said. “I wonder if they knew, you know, I wonder … because obviously they could never have known. … You wear fancy stuff for an occasion, and they dressed their kids up [on] this day. I imagine these kids smiling and the parents taking pictures, and I wonder if they knew that they were dressing them up for their funeral. And so that’s a way that politics influenced my art: It put me in the center and forced me to reckon with heart-wrenching things.”
Poetry was also with Oloyede through some of the happiest moments of his internship, including the time he found himself in Vogue, as he was ushering in the wedding of Symone Sanders, the host of MSNBC’s “Symone.” In this way, Oloyede reflected that poetry has helped him “squeeze” the moments for his “authentic emotional representation” along his journey.
“I would [also] try to write poetry about something that made me happy, and there were lots of things that made me happy in D.C. … I met really, really cool people — I met Nancy Pelosi one time, I danced with Joyce Beatty, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and … I drove Joyce Beatty around in a golf cart at [a] golf tournament,” Oloyede said. “So many good things happened amidst all of the chaos, and so I wanted my poetry to reflect some of the good things that were happening.”
As a first-generation student and Questbridge Scholar at Tufts, Oloyede emphasized that this summer’s opportunity would not have been possible without the help of his family, friends, mentors and, most importantly to him, God.
“I can only attribute [my success] to the people God has put in my life,” he said.
In this regard, Oloyede added that his mom has often likened him to a seed, and that with the help of God and the people in his life, he is to bear fruits. Informed and inspired by this metaphor, Oloyede reflected on his personal journey thus far.
“I am a seed and people watered me, people gave me soil, people labored over me in the sun, people pruned me — they cut off the bad parts, they trimmed all the things that needed to go, and when the soil was dry in one area, they picked me up and took me to fertile soil, and they replanted me,” Oloyede said. “And if something bad was growing out and a dead leaf was growing out, they cut it off. I am a seed, and I want them to see that I am a product of all the things that [they] have done for me.”
Quite symbolically for Oloyede, the last day of his internship, July 30, was also his birthday, metaphorically opening up a new chapter of his life.
Overall, Oloyede shared his excitement as he begins a new school year at Tufts.
“I’m going to have a better understanding when I go into these political science and international relations classes [this year], because I was there,” Oloyede said. “If I take an American politics class, I will be able to get so much more and contextualize it better than I could if I had not had this experience.”
Going forward, Oloyede hopes to advocate for the people and communities at Tufts and beyond, in light of his experiences and insights from the Hill.
“For somebody to come to me and be like, ‘Ayo, I’m really having this issue,’ and I can be like, ‘Don’t even worry. … I’ll take care of you.’ That’s what I want so bad,” Oloyede said.
On such a view, Oloyede elaborated on his understanding of leadership, inspired and animated by the question, ‘How can I help you?’ that has guided his journey thus far, including his internship in Washington D.C.
“[Leadership] is service. That was something that was hammered into me since high school, the concept of servant leadership, where you lead people by serving them,” Oloyede said. “And that ties back to gratitude. I don’t want to lead by telling you what to do, [and] I don’t want to lead by telling you what you need. I want to lead by hearing what you need and then trying to do that.”