A Village Named Roosevelt
April 1, 2020
By Nneka Ewulonu
As a second-year law student at the University of Georgia School of Law, I spend most of my time poring through case law, analyzing hypotheticals, and developing my ability to advocate for marginalized and low-income clients. The foundation of these pursuits, however, was developed long ago.
I started college at the University of Georgia in 2012 as a bright-eyed, ignorant millennial having come of age politically in the era of President Obama. But all of that changed after November 2016, when I watched firsthand how the call for progressive action was slowly but surely whittled down. At the time, I felt anger and disappointment at this state of affairs but had no idea how to distill my emotions into action. During my sophomore year of college, a longtime friend from high school who also attended UGA encouraged me to join Roosevelt@UGA. She sold it as a space for me to interact with like-minded students, using our shared malaise to write policy proposals and enact change in our community. I became a member, and Roosevelt quickly became the organization in which I was most involved.
The Roosevelt Network was my first introduction to the world of policy, and I was immediately enamored. When I started with Roosevelt@UGA, I had my eyes set on being an ob-gyn, following in my family’s legacy in the health care field. I was, and remain, passionate about reproductive justice and its intersection with race and racial equality. However, through Roosevelt, I learned there were other—and for me, more personally rewarding—ways to advocate for good in our society.
Not only was I involved with Roosevelt, but Roosevelt was involved with me. Both my peers at Roosevelt@UGA and my supervisors on Roosevelt staff invested in me and my work. From executive board positions to national student leadership internships, I was supported and encouraged at every turn.
My Roosevelt projects gave me a sense of fulfillment that shadowing doctors never had. The more I researched and wrote, the more I knew that policy, not medicine, was the career choice for me. I was given the tools and space to learn about the world around me, describe the issues that I had known existed but never had the ability to verbalize, and develop realistic solutions for those problems. National staff would develop policy worksheets and trainings and share them with chapters, teaching us how to distill our ideas into an easily digestible policy memo. I learned that it matters who writes the rules, and that I had a voice that could and would be listened to. I wrote papers on comprehensive sex education in Georgia and the school-to-prison pipeline in Atlanta public schools. The health care and education center directors guided me with each respective paper, introducing me to relevant stakeholders and important resources for information.
And when it came time to apply to law school, Roosevelt connected me with other law students and attorneys to guide me through the decision-making process. Both of my letters of recommendation came from Roosevelt staff, and Roosevelt has continued to be a source of support when applying for scholarships and fellowships. I can without a doubt say that I would not be who or where I am today without the backing of Roosevelt staff and students in my life.
The Roosevelt Network has continued to be a focal point in my adult life—so much so that I now run the Roosevelt Atlanta Alumni Association, a network of alumni who watch debates, visit museums, and support Roosevelt chapters within the state of Georgia. We recently celebrated the Roosevelt Network’s 15th birthday in Atlanta; seeing dozens of passionate and engaged individuals renewed my love for Roosevelt and reminded me of why—despite the hectic bustle of graduate school—I remain involved with the network.
There’s an old saying most people are familiar with: It takes a village to raise a child. It’s rare for a college organization to have an alumni network, and it’s even rarer for that network of alumni to continue their engagement and support. But Roosevelt is different; I, and many of my peer alums, remain involved with Roosevelt because its mission remains true. Roosevelt is, at its core, committed to righting the societal wrongs we perceive. It’s a coalition of thinkers and doers trying to make their slice of the world a little bit better. But most of all, it’s a family. Roosevelt is the village that raised me into the adult I am today. I know that no matter where I am in the country, or where I am in my career, there is a Roosevelter who wants to support me.
As Roosevelt continues to grow and come into its identity, I look back at the progress made thus far—from helping restore voting rights for people convicted of felonies in Florida to introducing early voting on college campuses in Georgia—and in turn look forward to seeing how Roosevelt alums will continue to improve public policy. While the work will never end, I know Roosevelt will rewrite the rules that matter. I am thankful every day for my Roosevelt family, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.