February 2023 Student Spotlight
We speak to MPA student Malik James about his position with the New York City Council as Executive Director of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC), his hiatus from – and aspirations for – the MPA program, and more in this month’s student spotlight.
You’re on a leave of absence and will continue the MPA program in the Fall of 2023. Can you tell us what it’s been like to take a break?
I’ve used this break time to identify what I truly desire out of my career in public service, to pursue the hobbies that bring me joy and balance and, most importantly, to rest. Before applying to Marxe, I thought my long-term goal was to become a state legislator to push solutions on affordable housing, homelessness, and equitable access to healthcare. Ultimately, it was my participation in the summer protests of 2020 that pushed me to pursue my MPA to better understand policy-making. What I did not realize in Fall 2020, however, was that the constant exposure to Black grief and pursuant protests had worn me down. By the end of the first semester, I was emotionally drained with no energy to spare for studies. I decided to take time off so I could find the best avenue to help my community fight the various inequities. With time to rest and think, I realized that elected office is not the sole nor terminal avenue to advocate for marginalized communities. I could get engaged through neighborhood forums and community-based organizations, both of which take a grassroots approach to spotlight and resolve social issues.
What do you hope to accomplish with your Marxe MPA education?
With this realization and, among other things, I want to use my Marxe MPA education to better understand how to increase both the affordability and availability of housing in New York City. As the city’s metropolitan population has grown over the years, the number of [affordable] housing units available has not increased proportionate to that growth. In part due to low supply, landlords charge astronomical rent and aspiring homeowners are forced to look outside city and state limits for house they can afford. This is a direct threat to the city’s long-term cultural and fiscal future; if people cannot afford to live here, they will take their dreams, cultures and money elsewhere, depriving the city of what gives it life. Marxe’s Urban Development and Sustainability track has housing and community development courses I plan on taking to bolster my contextual understanding of our citywide issue, and use that knowledge to inform my current work with policymakers on equitably addressing the shortage as quickly as possible.
Have there been any standout professors or classes thus far?
Professor Jerry Mitchell was my first instructor at Baruch and, as far as I’m concerned, he should be everyone’s first instructor. He set a positive tone for what the goal of the MPA program was and how his class, Introduction to Public Affairs, was the foundation of it all. Professor Mitchell made it clear that, no matter one’s prior undergraduate area of focus, everyone had something valuable to contribute to the conversation.
Can you talk about your past role at the New York Immigrant Coalition?
As their Political Associate, I monitored legislative developments on our immigration-based priorities and managed elected outreach on the local, county, state, and federal level. Those developments would inform outreach. For example, if a new piece of supported legislation was circulated in the state senate and cosponsored by a group of senators, our next step would be to identify which senators did not initially cosponsor it and request a meeting to gain their support. While I was busy scheduling those meetings and tracking the commitments made in them, I would occasionally participate in meetings and frequently took educational roles in briefings and lobby days for our member organizations. In doing so, I ensured that members knew the political landscape and how to make their requests to legislators. My biggest achievement with the Coalition was, without a doubt, getting Our City, Our Vote (Local Law 11) passed in New York City, enfranchising almost one million permanent residents, green card holders and those with work permits to participate in municipal elections and ballot initiatives. I have family and friends who will be able to vote locally because of the bill, and that brings me deep gratitude for the effort of the Coalition’s staff and membership in getting the legislation passed.
Tell us a bit about your new position with the New York City Council as Executive Director of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC)
In my new role with the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, I am principally responsible for helping develop, organize and execute the Caucus’ legislative and budget agendas. This means working with all 34 council members in the Caucus to understand their priorities and identify commonalities to amplify collectively. In that amplification, we work to gain more support for priority bills drafted by our members, and ensure that organizations who serve our communities receive the funding they need to operate and grow. While I have other responsibilities and goals, above all, my interest is in promoting, guiding and providing structural support for the Caucus. I’m really excited to be here at this time.