Before My City Had Trees

These are my words and this is my journey. I am a third generation dancer. I live by a beat, and the beat keeps me moving. So walking into the opportunity to compete for a media assistant position was just another goal getting ready to get knocked down off my list.

In July of 2016, I entered into the war zone. Please do let me explain. I was number 42 out of over 100 other L.E.A.P. (Learn Earn Advance Prosper) applicants. There were dozens of single mothers, looking to get into entry-level DC government positions. I clearly remember my orientation speaker saying “we only have 30 positions,” which meant we only need 30 of you. My immediate feeling was to attack the competition. I had to do this not only for me but for my kids who are my audience, observing all my moves. “SO LET THE FIGHT BEGIN.”

I suddenly started experiencing tunnel vision. I knew what I wanted. I received all the guidelines. And I was determined to become gainfully employed. My mind and body were ready to show up and perform.

Phase 1: Daily discussions and reviews of job behavior, attire, and employer expectations. I was sometimes distracted, as I observed people get knocked out of the running starting at Day #1. Randomly, people were called out during sessions. Not even a family emergency was considered an acceptable reason for leadership not to disqualify anyone. At 1:01pm locked doors were your confirmation of disqualification. “Tears” and after 2 weeks….

“Keep Up, Because Things Will Go By Fast” and that's exactly what it did.

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Phase 2: Congratulations!! You have moved a little closer to becoming a Media Assistant Intern. “YESSSS.” I’m making my stride to the finish. But I don't see a lot of my classmates from “Phase 1.” Now, I’m beginning to doubt myself because I couldn't see why they didn't get the email to the next phase. I had 2 days to get a plan set because I was headed to D.O.E.S. (Department Of Employment Services) for a computerized literacy test. The day came and I entered a room full of faces, some of which I have seen before, but many that I had not. We were escorted to a large room on the 2nd floor with almost 40 desktop computers. The admin overseeing the test welcomed my cohort (4.5) with a positive attitude. She asked us to relax. I was so tense my ears stopped working. It’s crazy how the word “TEST” sends my mind out of balance. However, I remember her final words being “Once you have completed your exam step out in the hallway to receive your results.”  Well let’s just say 260 was the highest anybody could score and I scored 256. After those results, it was back to the waiting game once again.

Phase 3: “PING” after the 3-day mind race. I finally get the email stating “You have been selected to be a part of the L.E.A.P. Intern program." Talk about total elation. And here comes a second “PING.” It's a follow-up email that's asking me to confirm my interview date. Interview date? Wow!! was the only thing I could say in response. I gather my thoughts, looked at the date provided. And agreed to the interview.

Phase 4: I showed up to my interview shinier than a new penny. In my black pencil skirt suit. Crisp white long sleeve blouse. Eyewear clean and clear. And not one hair out of place. I even arrived 45 minutes early to practice my best punchlines to capture the attention of my interviewer. Thanks to “Jen & Ashley,” my prep coaches from workforce development, I knew I had this interview by the hand. “Here comes the loop.” I was escorted to a big room with 10 other candidates applying for the same position. I put on my game face. “This is the Boom.” Herbert Niles enters the room, nicely dressed, with a pinch of tension on his face. He stands with pride when he says “Good Morning, I am Herbert Niles of OCTFME, and today we are trying something a little different. We will be conducting an interview session almost like a speed date. You will have 6 minutes to interview with each company in that room. DCTV will interview with you on a later date. Is everybody OK with that?” Of course we were. We have come too far to just let it go now. So here it goes…

And around the room I go...resumes in hand, a smile on my face not letting my discomfort control my opportunity. I had never been in a speed date environment, so I had mixed emotions about how I should approach my interviewers. As I sat at the first table I glanced at the faces. Two beautiful women with a very approachable vibe. I started with “Good Morning” and the response I got back was, “Sorry about this mess.” I started thinking to myself, “ok this must be an icebreaker and a test on professionalism all at once.” I refuse to release my conservative manners because my interviewer dropped a bomb. But it did help with releasing mental tension I had held onto the entire ride to the interview.

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The process really got easy at the second table. These two young guys were completely chilled and unbothered. I noticed they were wearing really cool H&M-style trendy button down shirts. Neither looked ironed. They weren't sitting with their backs straight up. And they didn't really give the “BIG EXAGGERATED SMILE.” My brain says, “Thank You!!” I sat down and felt calm, thinking “ok they seem normal.” Then the guy with long legs and freshly cut goatee says “GOOD MORNING, MY NAME IS LANCE AND THIS IS MY BROTHER BRANDON AND WE ARE MERIDIAN HILL PICTURES.” I guess my face hinted at the differences upon looking at them. He says jokingly “I know we don’t really look alike but we are brothers, and we create documentaries.” Lance asked me “Why do you want to change careers? Because I noticed your work history shows mostly administration skills.” And so here is my moment to crash or soar. I took a deep breath and explained my true background that I was told not to display on my resume. While giving the brothers my “elevator pitch” it felt great not to hide my love for the arts. It was something that I love to speak about. It made me show a side of me that I had been holding back during every interview until NOW.

So my pitch went a little like this “Well, my name is Kenya Raymond. I was born in Los Angeles, California. I have been a dancer since 18 months old. I am grade 5 certified in cecchetti ballet.” I gave a little information about how I was introduced to my love of the arts. I shared how my grandmother was known in DC for hand dancing with her sisters during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. I mentioned my mother, who is a trained ballet dancer who traveled most of the world expanding her knowledge on other types of dance. I also spoke about some of the people I had the pleasure of getting to know while working with or for them. And one name — Mr.Kelsey Collie — brought us to a common ground. Kelsey was my mother's former professor at Howard University. I saw a genuine smile make a guest appearance on both brothers faces when they recognized the name. That’s when they mentioned that he was currently a participant in a film they were currently working on. Whalla!! I gave them them a reason to remember my name. And so they did...

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Phase 5: A couple days later. “PING” I have a email. Yay!! It states “Hi Kenya, My name is Lance. My brother and I interviewed you at D.O.E.S. and we would like to have a second interview if that's ok with you. We really gravitated towards some of the goals you were able to share in the 6 minutes.” My second interview was amazing. I was able to speak in-depth about my goals. I embellished on the fact that I would love to learn about producing, directing, story building, editing and cameras. I talked about my expectations for what I wanted to gain out of the experience. I held nothing back when I asked to be in the field. I made sure to let them know how I had some ideas that I would enjoy seeing become a visual production. By the end of the call I had chosen Meridian Hill Pictures and they had chose me. I had finally found a spot.

Phase 6: But wait there is more! After all of this, I was asked to join other selected candidates in a two-week crash course at Judiciary Square. These sessions covered everything from punctuality to punctuation. Most of the presenters expanded my mind beyond belief. I even had to have conversations with them following their presentations. They put many situations and conflicts in front of us for to be ready and prepared for our agencies. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t ready. And as much as I appreciated the crash course I became more eager to get to Meridian Hill Pictures. I was ready to lay down my map towards my dreams. I had never been so hungry for more in my life. We were sworn into the government. Right hand over your heart, HAHAHAHAHA I MADE IT!!!! Without any excuses. I wanted it. I aimed for it. I played for it. And now it’s mine, all Mine.

After that long but enjoyable 2 weeks. September 19th came and it was the start of something promising. I walked into Meridian Hill Pictures as a L.E.A.P. CECAP Intern. From the moment I walked into the studio my mind has be open for new task and adventures. Hold On..Now the surprises couldn’t stop right there!! My first day in the office..PING!

I was greeted with warmth. I felt like I belonged. And as the day progress I saw where to jump in and got things accomplished. My first forwarded email arrived to my inbox and read:“Congratulations and Welcome to Creative.Economy.Career.Access.Program.(CECAP).”

kenya_3.jpgNow I'm thinking, what is CECAP? What is CECAP about? So on Tuesday September 27th Michelle Aguilar (my new co-worker) and I headed up to DCTV for a CECAP welcoming. At the welcoming I saw so many faces that were so near and dear to me. They were the faces of the people I became friends with during the entire L.E.A.P. Academy process and most of the employers who had interviewed me, who are now also the bosses of the other L.E.A.P interns. At the welcoming I learned more about the purpose of CECAP. CECAP was put in place by the DC Mayor. It started as Herbert Niles’ idea three years ago. He stated that he didn't know how he was going to get it off the ground. However, he knew it was a program he wanted to share with residents of this beautiful city of Washington, DC. The Film Office created CECAP to offer residents of DC the opportunity to work alongside producers, editors, directors and other titled individuals in the industry of film and arts. I am a third generation dancer and raising a fourth. How could I not love the purpose of CECAP? CECAP is offering me a chance to develop my passion with pay. Not to mention the awesome courses in camera operation, editing, producing, production and proposals, just to name a couple of subjects.

I am pleased with what has been given given to me. However, I also feel like I earned every bit of this opportunity. With that said, Thank You L.E.A.P, D.O.E.S, Office Of Motion Picture, and DCTV.

Special Shout Outs to Lance and Brandon of Meridian Hill Pictures for providing me the seeds that will now provide my city with trees. (Morning Meeting Finger Snaps)

Watch Out for my name in the credits, Sooner than Later!!





Kenya Raymond is a trainee in the new Creative Economy Career Access Program sponsored by the DC Office of Cable Television Film Music and Entertainment. Kenya will be placed with Meridian Hill Pictures for a year to learn on-the-job training, experience and job placement support to establish a sustainable career in the creative economy.

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