GW Serves: Native Washingtonian Gives Back to D.C. Public Schools

Sophomore Eden Parker, a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholar, has extended her Civic Changemakers summer program work through the school year.

February 15, 2024

GW Serves with Eden Parker

GW sophomore Eden Parker offers guidance at a student council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Eliot-Hine Middle School. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Every now and then, Eden Parker would offer a suggestion she probably could have at any point of the meeting. But mostly, the current George Washington University sophomore sat back and listened to a trio of adolescents at Eliot-Hine Middle School as they shared their own thoughts and ideas on how to best organize an upcoming school dance.

This was their show, after all, and she was there to offer support to the school’s student council, as she does every Wednesday afternoon when the school day ends.

A former D.C. Public School (DCPS) student herself who has performed service and civic engagement projects since her early childhood days, including with the Jack and Jill of America organization that stewards young Black leaders, Parker defines leadership as being humble and receptive to community needs.

“I don’t necessarily think of someone who is always in command or in charge, but rather someone who is sensitive to everything and is hyper conscious of the things that are happening around them and who have the will within them to change, create change or to actually question the things around them,” said Parker, who graduated from Jackson-Reed (former Woodrow Wilson) High School.  

Parker, who is majoring in international affairs and Africana Studies while concentrating in international development at GW, was once in those DCPS students’ shoes with her own ambitious goals and visions. She was just seeking an opportunity to act on them, and through GW she found it. In 2022, Parker was one of 10 D.C. residents and high school graduates awarded the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship, which covers tuition, room, board, books and fees throughout four years at GW.

Once on campus, SJT scholars participate in service-oriented activities and are called on regularly to represent the university in a variety of ways. Parker, who is close and connected to many of her fellow scholars, has been inspired to give back to DCPS students, GW and other community interests since she received the scholarship. After her first year of studies at GW, Parker joined the Civic Changemakers program out of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

Parker helped mentor a group of young students at Sousa Middle School on a project addressing gun violence in the city. She felt inspired by their passion to solve some of the most pressing social issues in their lives and was moved by their creative approaches to the project.

“I feel like they all have incredibly powerful voices with really deep life experiences that can attest to the work that they do in terms of service and civic engagement,” Parker said. “I really enjoyed the mission of civic engagement and just general activism of the youth. It’s just so nice to see their ambition and intelligence and that they’re highly motivated to have a powerful voice. I just wanted to continue doing that.”

She jumped at the chance to continue her summer work by helping young and inspired leaders in the Eliot-Hine student council. Especially in her position as an SJT scholar, Parker has felt compelled to share her journey and some of the opportunities she has earned to those passionate DCPS students. She’ll also help the Nashman Center host DCPS students on a retreat to GW in March, giving those youth a chance to set foot on a college campus and plant the seeds of inspiration.

“Having those conversations with other DCPS students, I’m able to see where there’s a lack of awareness about resources we have and the need in D.C. schools,” Parker said. “I want to give back in that sense, just because I am a little bit more aware now.

“My interest in giving back is centered around having a connection with other D.C. natives and D.C. students and sharing our experiences together.”

Parker, too, has large aspirations, shaped in part by some of those very students she mentors. She’s passionate about poverty alleviation, access to education and honoring Black culture and heritage. Coursework at GW in international affairs and Africana Studies has allowed her to see a reflection of herself in the curriculum for what she says is really the first time. She seeks a career in international development so others can have that experience and opportunity, regardless of their backgrounds.

As her journey reaches new heights, she’ll continue to listen and be curious so she can bring others up with her. Because that’s how Parker chooses to lead.

GW Serves is a monthly series featuring students who are living out the university’s mission to build up public service leaders and active citizens to create a better world for all.