Photo courtesy of CBCF website
Photo courtesy of CBCF website

Every year for more than a decade, David Kavika has made the four-hour drive from his home in New York and takes a week off of work to volunteer with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference. 

While he’ll help out wherever needed, one of his main jobs over the years has been meeting members of Congress at the airport and making sure they get to and from the conference smoothly. 

“I think my greatest experience was having the opportunity to speak with John Lewis,” Kavika, a 63-year-old mental health therapist, said. 

The two had about an hour’s drive from the airport to the hotel. 

“To talk to someone who had actually been through and experienced the Civil Rights Movement was just fascinating—I mean, it was just so informative, and he was so down to earth, and he told me so many stories,” Kavika said. “I still carry that with me to this day.”

Kavika has got to meet and chat with dozens of Black Caucus members—not to mention, a few Hollywood celebrities. But he says that’s not what keeps him coming back to volunteer each year, or why he started in the first place.

“I was seeing that the Congressional Black Caucus was doing so much for the African American community when it came to their commitment to help our communities and marginalized communities live the American dream,” he said. “I felt that I wanted to be a part of that. So I signed up for the volunteer department, and it’s been a great experience ever since.”

It takes a team of about 150 to 200 volunteers to pull off the ALC each year, said Candice Willmore, the CBCF’s human resources director. Attendees can find them taking shifts at the registration desks, guiding panelists to their sessions, answering participants’ questions and giving directions. That’s not to mention behind-the-scenes work like stuffing welcome bags and setting things up. 

“The CBCF [staff] is a small but mighty team,” Willmore said. “There is no way we would be able to pull off such a large event without the help of these wonderful individuals who are so giving of their time.”

Willmore said that volunteers come from all walks of life, and a wide range of ages, from college students to retirees. Most ALC volunteers are women, she said; lots of sororities and other Greek life organizations mobilize groups of their members, as do churches and other nonprofits. 

Many, like Kavika, come back year after year. But CBCF also sees plenty of new applicants every season—and not everyone makes the cut. Willmore noted that the organization so far expects to bring on 116 volunteers out of 195 applications submitted for ALC 2023. 

“We try to ensure that when we are bringing people on as volunteers that they understand that these are the responsibilities and that this is not like a time to just, you know, try to get pictures with celebrities or politicians,” Willmore said. “These people [the volunteers] are committed to being there.”

Elizabeth Byrd, 70, is returning for her second ALC this year. The Prince George’s County resident first found out about the volunteer opportunity through a friend—whom she met while volunteering as a poll worker during the 2020 presidential election. 

Byrd retired three years ago after almost three decades in the private sector. Now she spends her time volunteering at local hospitals, serving at the polls and showing out at events like last month’s 60th anniversary March on Washington. 

“This new adventure for me has been more than I thought it could ever be,” Byrd said. “I gather so much from the connections that I make, and from the friendships… it is more valuable than words could ever express.”

Kayla Benjamin covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine...

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