August 2021 Alumni Spotlight
In August’s Marxe alumni spotlight with Jonathan Prevost who is chief of staff at the Office of Legislator Debra Mulé, we talk about activism, unexpected challenges of the pandemic, his Marxe education, and more.
You’ve done some public speaking on voter rights and community engagement; what got you interested in these aspects of activism? How did you get into public speaking?
My interest in community engagement and voter rights started with a simple observation during my college years. I realized that small businesses in my community were closing at a concerning rate. I would go away to school, and when I came back for summer break, the businesses would be gone. This led to sections of blighted areas throughout the community. I couldn’t understand how this issue wasn’t being addressed. I felt so strongly about it that it became the focal point for my master’s thesis—the simple question of “why” led me down a deeper path. I started attending community events, joined civic groups, and realized the connections that led to the root issue. There is a knowledge gap between large portions of the community and how to advocate for change. Most people in the area didn’t know who represented them or the proper channels to reach out to. People want to improve where they live, but they didn’t know how to do that.
As a result, people accept the conditions as is when they don’t have to. After seeing that, I took it upon myself to correct the issue. I created a program educating voters on who is running for office in their area. Following that, I expanded on voter rights because I believe that the power of a vote is essential, especially at the current time with legislation coming out in certain states to making voting more difficult. While speaking on voter rights at a civic meeting, the opportunity to speak at a public forum on voting rights for a program hosted by Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority at Hofstra University presented itself. That was my first speaking engagement, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m also very thankful to the AKAs for the opportunity. Since then, my experience as a public speaker has served me well. During last year’s initial wave of COVID, when our office switched to digital events, I would host them. I also spoke alongside the County Executive, which was pretty cool as well.
When I reflect on it, my driving passion has always been to create sustainable change. The best advice I got on activism was from a gentleman named Sam Johnson. Mr. Johnson serves as the Americas Vice Chair for accounts at EY. He was the keynote speaker for EY’s Black Executive Roundtable. He said, “We shouldn’t wait for someone else to come into our communities to tell us what our issues are and how to fix them, it’s up to us to represent our communities.” I always felt that those words were impactful. I hope they inspire someone else the same way they inspired me.
What made you decide to get or MPA at the Marxe School?
During my senior year at Buffalo State College, I knew I wanted to come back home to continue my education. I was familiar with Baruch College and its reputation for being a great school. After doing some research on the MPA program and speaking with some friends who graduated from Baruch, it felt like the perfect fit. I wanted to have that New York City experience after being in upstate New York for four years, and Baruch provided that. Also, the class sizes allowed you to build relationships with your professors and classmates, which I appreciated. I still keep in contact with my former professors, and they have become mentors for me as I’ve grown throughout my career.
Are there any major takeaways from your Marxe MPA experience that you apply to your role at the Nassau County Legislature?
Throughout my career, I’ve applied various skills I learned during my Marxe MPA experience. In my current role as the Chief of Staff for Nassau County Legislator Mulé, two courses come to mind. Communications in a Public Setting and Public and Nonprofit Management. Communications in a Public Setting provided me with the ability to draft policy and helped me improve as a public speaker. In this role, I’ve used this same skill to prepare community event proposals, analyze upcoming policies and legislation, and other briefings. In my personal life, I’ve used this skill to help those with community issues prepare statements to reach out to their elected officials about pressing issues. At the same time, Public and Nonprofit Management helped me develop the ability to assess organizations. In my prior role as an auditor, I used this skill constantly to provide suggestions on how to improve workflow and employee input. In my current position, I use those skills to enhance our office operations, develop relationships with other offices and outside partners and empower teammates through special assignments. Overall, I have to say my Marxe MPA experience helped shape me to become a community advocate as well.
You started at the Legislature just before the pandemic hit last winter; what unexpected challenges have arisen during this time of upheaval and unrest?
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in Nassau County was not easy. At the beginning of the pandemic, New York was hit hard, and a lot of fear and uncertainty came with that. At the time, most people were unaware of how the virus spread and how to protect themselves, which was the biggest challenge early on. Our office focused on the facts from the experts and shared that information with our constituents. We constantly provided daily COVID updates, information on affordable healthcare services throughout Nassau, and testing site information in various languages. As things started to improve, we were out in the district providing hand sanitizer and masks. As a way to say thank you to our frontline workers, we hosted a COVID Heroes event. The event was district-wide, and we honored firefighters, police officers, community volunteers, EMTs, grocery store workers, nurses, sanitation workers, Island Harvest, postal workers, and various health professionals and organizations. We also adapted to the times as well. We went digital with our community events to offer programs to our constituents.
The second challenge our office faced was getting information about vaccine appointments to our constituents. Due to the high demand, slots were often limited, and they filled up quickly. During that time, our office worked closely with local and state offices to provide information about upcoming vaccine sights and pop-up pods. The joint effort paid off because, as of today, over 80% of adults in Nassau County have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. During the height of the pandemic, Nassau was one of the most problematic areas hit in New York, but thanks to County Executive Laura Curran and her team, we got through it, and Nassau County is back.