Inside 16th & L is our bi-weekly blog series showcasing the Independent Sector team here at the corner of 16th and L Streets in Washington, DC. Find out who we are, where we’re from, what we do, and what drives us. This week, Inside 16th & L introduces Marie LeBlanc, our manager for critical issues and sector advancement.
Marie’s role in her own words
I’m basically a program manager and get to work on lots of different, interesting programs across the organization. This year, I’ve been doing a lot of work on program design and program management—diving into the new human-centered design work that IS is doing. I also work on our ethics and accountability program. I do a lot of work around our annual conference, and I’ve been working on a new project this year about how we have conversations about democracy and community.
Hometown and alma mater
I don’t really have a hometown—I lived in a lot of different places growing up. So I’ve made my hometown in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and now, I call DC home. I am proud of my alma maters! I went to the Florida State University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Marie is a…
• Life-long learner
• Badass woman
• World traveler
What or who are you inspired by right now?
Right now, I’m really inspired by all the people that I see across the country who are fighting for what they believe in at a time when it’s necessary, I think, more than it has been in recent years. I’m particularly inspired by people from communities who have to continue to wage battles for their very survival, people who are fighting to stay in this country, people who are speaking truth to power, people who are exhibiting a lot of courage in this moment—they inspire me to keep going and keep striving to do bigger and better things.
I have a lot of friends who are affected by immigration issues right now. I know people who are personally putting themselves at risk with the announcement of potential changes to DACA and other immigration laws. I think it’s incredibly brave to be going through that struggle knowing that everything you’ve built can be taken away in a single moment.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever witnessed? Where were you and when was it?
One of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed was when I was on a weeklong service trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and I was staying with an indigenous group called the Shuar. One vivid memory where I was both a witness and a participant was one evening we were spending with some members of the group, and they were telling us one of their creation myths. And we were looking up at the stars in the middle of the jungle, and I—at that time—was a much better Spanish speaker than I am now. So they were telling these stories in Spanish, and I was translating them for the rest of my group. And just to be there in that moment, in that place, looking up at the stars, hearing the Shuar share these creation myths—it felt like being part of a place and a time that doesn’t really exist anymore. It was very powerful and I felt very connected to everyone I was with in that space.
What was also interesting in that particular moment is that most of the people we were with spoke Shuar and not Spanish, so there was actually a third dimension of translating from an indigenous language to Spanish—which is a colonial language—into English, which was our language of the day.
What are your favorite places in DC?
Most of my favorite places in DC are a little off the beaten path, and are places where I can have fun outside and eat good food. Union Market in Northeast is absolutely one of my favorite places to eat. Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill is one of my favorite places to lay outside and read. I also love Yards Park and being down by the water near Navy Yard. And I love my little backyard, which is very small, but it’s very homey, so I love to spend time back there.
Books: What’s the last you started, the last you finished, and the most memorable you’ve ever read?
The book that I’ve started is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy—I can’t say much about it because I just started it. That one’s for my book club. The last book I finished was The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. It’s a super interesting read with a strong critique of pretty much all the actors involved in the Vietnam War, and the legacy of Vietnamese Americans. The author himself is Vietnamese American—it was written just last year, but it’s written to tell the story of somebody who grew up in the context of the decolonization, France withdrawing from Vietnam, then the U.S. coming in, and all the regional conflict that was happening there. It tries to portray a group of people who are often not given full humanity and complexity with a high degree of humanity and complexity.
The Harry Potter series is for sure one of my absolute favorite, most memorable book series ever. Another one that’s memorable for me is Ethics for the New Millennium written by the Dalai Lama, which I read in college. It was really formative in that I think it was the first non-Judeo-Christian book that I read about spirituality and ethics, and it offered a very different way of thinking that really resonated with me. The last would be The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which I read in grad school. It blew my mind in having a very rigorous, well-documented way of thinking about how racial oppression and systematic racism happens in our country.
In the Harry Potter series, there is a charm called a patronus that a person uses to conjure positive feelings from their happiest memories as a protection against evil beings that prey on human souls. What is your patronus and what happy memory do you use to cast it?
My patronus is a hummingbird. And the memory/memories that I summon are about my family vacations when I was a kid because every year, we would road trip from wherever we were living—usually Texas or Tennessee—to Disney World. That was our family vacation every year. And I have such happy, pure, blissful memories of being there with my family, and any other struggles we were having were not in that place and time. It’s not necessarily my happy place now, but when I was a kid, it was wonderful.