Roosevelt Alumna Naomi Ahsan shared remarks at our Policy By and For Reception in DC on June 18.
“Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be with you all tonight and see some familiar friendly faces and meet some new folks. My name is Naomi Ahsan. I am currently working at the Department of Justice before I start my third year of law school here in town at American University. I am honored to have the opportunity to share some reflections with you as an alumnus of both the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network’s Summer Academy as well as Pipeline.
One of the amazing things about the Campus Network is that it shatters the illusions a young person may have about being unworthy of leadership in social justice and policy. I came into the Summer Academy with many such illusions—illusions that were, unfortunately, grounded in realities. As a child, I don’t think I ever came across a woman of color working in law or policy in my community. Forget a woman who covered her hair in the Muslim tradition, or from a family that recently emigrated. By the time I got to college, I saw that many of my peers from similar backgrounds aspired to careers in science and medicine. I followed suit. While I did feel passion for my major in neuroscience, I came to feel more strongly that I wanted to work in health policy as I completed independent studies on mental illness among Middle Eastern women. But I had almost no idea where to begin. Fortunately for me, I met Rajiv Narayan—one of the Campus Network’s brightest stars at the time, and now one of its distinguished alumni—through my fellowship with Young People For, and he pointed me toward the Roosevelt Campus Network’s Summer Academy, where I found my non-traditional path to policy work was celebrated.
That was when my relationship with Roosevelt—or I might say, my time as a “Rooster”—began, in the summer of 2011. For anyone who is not familiar with the summer academy, the Fellows spend a summer working either at Roosevelt, within the Chicago city government, or with a partner organization. Based on my interests in healthcare as well as progressive economic policy, I was matched up with the Center for Community Change in DC for my internship. I worked with the Policy department, spending most of my summer researching bills proposing to fund improvements to our nation’s infrastructure while creating good jobs. If you know the Campus Network, then this project might sound very typical of our students—wonky; innovative; important for our nation’s future; and embodying several progressive values simultaneously. I loved it.
Thanks to my placement with the Center for Community Change as a Summer Academy Fellow, I was able to go back to the Center for my first job out of college. I am extremely proud to have participated in the Center’s GOTV program and advocacy on immigration as well as criminal justice reform. My Roosevelt network continued to be a source of guidance and support for me throughout that time. When I worked at the Center, I was often the youngest person in the room for important discussions about national policy and the organization’s direction. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren was on the Center’s Board of Directors—he now serves as chair—and he helped me to understand that this actually meant that my perspective was unique and should be shared—not that I should sit quietly and let the grown-ups talk. Dante Barry, former director of the Summer Academy and currently the ED of the Million Hoodies Movement, helped elevate my voice when I wanted to write about my own reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict. Roosevelt provided an additional platform to hone my professional policy skills through its alumni work—I got to serve as the Director of Programs for the DC chapter.
For years now, whenever I had some idea of what skills I wanted to acquire or work on, but not how I would get there, my Roosevelt network has been there to help. Through Roosevelt programs and relationships, I have developed my advocacy skills; participated in a community of people who provide solidarity, support and encouragement to one another, both as peers and as mentors; and upheld my commitments to public service, social justice, and strong work ethic.
For the current members of Roosevelt in the room, I hope your experience is just as rewarding, and that you will let me know if there is any way I can serve as a resource for you.
For those of you whose hard work and dedication drive Roosevelt, especially as staff—many, many thanks.”