Roosevelt Network: Changing Communities from Within

May 31, 2019

“I look at the world differently since becoming a Roosevelter.” Last year at this time, Deondre Morris had just gotten his acceptance into the 2018-2019 Forge Fellowship, one of Roosevelt’s training programs that help community college and public university students across the Midwest and South develop organizing and policy leadership. Deondre was one of nine people selected for the inaugural fellowship cohort.

Deondre is from the Southeastern side of Detroit, Michigan. A neighborhood that leads the city in both crime and poverty statistics, he remembers a childhood dominated by neighborhood dynamics. “As a kid,” he said, “I thought gangs were needed to survive.” Deondre dropped out of high school, fascinated by and connected to the gang culture of his hometown. As an avid reader, however, Deondre realized the importance of education and decided to re-enroll in school, eventually earning his GED. Transitioning from a standardized high school equivalency test to sitting in the classroom was a challenging process for Deondre, but he was able to adjust quickly and was named to the All Michigan Academic 1st team.

Having completed his time at community college with a 3.95 GPA, Deondre began the Forge Fellowship in the summer of 2018 and transferred to Wayne State University in the fall. When he arrived, he wasted no time; he had a Roosevelt chapter up and running within his first semester. Roosevelt @ Wayne State developed a policy idea to combat discrimination in Michigan’s auto insurance market (an idea that legislators in Michigan have also sought to address through Senate Bill 1), volunteered in the community, and participated in Roosevelt’s financialization incubator to study the impact of corporate power in university decision making.

And then Deondre got an important call: heading into the 2018 midterm elections, one of his Forge alumni partners was connected to a congressional campaign that needed a staff member in Eastpointe. Without anyone representing Eastpointe, community doors would go unknocked and resident priorities unrepresented to a person looking to serve them in Washington, DC. In a characteristic move, Deondre took an interview within the next hour and secured a position on the campaign—which won. Deondre’s interest in the political process was sparked, and he just accepted a role with the Democratic National Committee for the 2020 election.

In the last year, Deondre built a chapter, saw a state-level policy he had been researching gain traction, and helped elect someone to the United States Congress. As someone who values mentorship—he runs The Root Program, a mentorship program for at risk youth in the Southeastern side of Detroit, as well—he ensured that his success helped build pathways for others to get involved, too; his daughter is a member of Roosevelt @ Wayne State and has worked alongside him all year. Reflecting upon his involvement with Roosevelt, he said, “I understand the importance of policy, the importance of the people we entrust to write the policies and holding those same individuals accountable to the people in the communities in which they serve. I can’t speak on other fellows who joined Roosevelt with but this organization has lit a fire inside of me that is getting stronger every day.”

Deondre’s story is just one of many from this year. All across our network students like Deondre have pushed to change the rules, and more importantly, to change who writes them. Thank you for working alongside us.