Brian Kennedy takes advantage of the opportunities that come his way. He began his college career at North Carolina Central University to study Political Science and History in the fall of 2008—right in the middle of the last presidential election. Brian knew he was in the midst of a unique time in our nation’s history, so he decided to take action. He got involved with the Obama campaign through a local group called the Obama Squad, where he canvassed and helped register voters.
But when Barack Obama was elected, Brian didn’t stop working. He became active in his student government, and continued to help with local voter registration efforts and issue education initiatives on campus. That summer, his hard work paid off when he was selected to work on the President’s Fiscal Commission as an intern.
So when he got the chance to ask Senior Democratic Strategist Valerie Jarrett and Campaign Manager Jim Messina a question at the HCBU Student Summit last Tuesday, he knew he had another special opportunity.
It was literally like a dream. It was exciting, slightly scary, but most of all it was empowering. As a news junkie, I watch CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN, and was thinking, "Man, if I can just get my voice on there…" This was an opportunity to be heard. I asked the question: “How do we encourage upward mobility through education while there are systematic obstacles that inhibit and discourage students from pursuing and capitalizing on higher education?"
Today, Brian interns with NCCU's Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change where he works to promote the issues of education and voter registration. He’s interested in social policy, specifically education, jobs, health, and issues that affect African Americans. Eventually, he wants to work in a problem-solving capacity around these issues through think tanks and other research and advocacy organizations.
I was always taught that education equaled freedom, and to pursue your education at all cost. My friends from high school also understood the importance of education; however, most of them were deterred for one reason or another. I also think that going to college isn't enough. In order to obtain that "freedom" you have to utilize and take advantage of certain experiences and opportunities. Things like leadership positions and unpaid internships are a critical part of your college experience. However, those opportunities are inaccessible to a lot of students, especially those from financially unstable homes.
And now that it’s election season again, Brian’s already making plans to take action on his campus and in his community.
The difficult part is helping people to make informed decisions and getting them to the polls to cast that vote. Many people aren't apathetic, they just aren't aware of the issues. In a nation of over 300 million people, it's easy to feel like your vote doesn't matter. We have to empower people to educate themselves and want to vote.