November 2021 Student Spotlight
In this month’s student spotlight we speak to MPA candidate Jael Henry whose upbringing in the Caribbean, then Harlem informed his interest in racial justice advocacy. We talk about his work in CUNY;s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion incubator, his Research Assistantship with professor Sonia Jarvis, and more.
How did racial justice advocacy become important to you?
I was born on a small island in the Caribbean called Dominica and I moved to Harlem with my mom as a teenager. As a kid I always daydreamed about what America would be like but when I got to Harlem it wasn’t like any of the Disney or Nickelodeon shows that I loved, in fact, in a lot of ways it was exactly like where I grew up in Dominica. It didn’t take me long until I realized that the America that I craved to be a part of did exist like I thought it did, but in inner city areas with people who looked like me that wasn’t their reality. Systemic racism was at the root of almost every single one of the disparities that me and the people in my community had to navigate on a daily basis and a lot of people who I consider friends were victims of those systems as well. Racial justice advocacy is personal for me and that’s why I dedicate so much of my time to it. Systemic racism has impacted and will continue to impact me and people all around this country who look like me unless we make a change. And I’ll continue to play my part until that change happens.
Can you tell us about the work you did in service of CUNY’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion incubator?
Like many people around the country I was sad and angry about what happened on May 25th, 2020 and I wanted to channel my frustration into doing something that would make a difference and help people. Needless to say that I wasn’t the only one of my Marxe School colleagues who felt that way and a group of us came together and went to work. During my time as the MPA Club President, my executive board and I wanted to create space for our Marxe Community to come together and grow together so we created and hosted virtual events aimed at doing just that. We also wanted to make sure that our work wasn’t just empty words and it transcended that, so we partnered with two other Marxe Clubs, the Higher Education Administration Club and the Master of International Affairs Club, to create a letter of Actionable Items (you can read it here) that aimed to hold the administration and ourselves accountable. Since the letter was released on August 12th of last year we’ve been working with faculty and the administration behind the scenes to see a bunch of our action items through. Two of our major items have come to fruition since then; the GRE has been eliminated and the Marxe School has added a mandatory course addressing racial inequity and how it shows its face in different policy areas. I’m also a member of the CUNY DEI Incubator, which is a New York City Council funded program, tasked with figuring out ways to make CUNY more inclusive. The Baruch cohort is made up of different faculty, administrators and me, and they inspire me every single time that we meet.
What do you do as an associate at The Raben Group’s Beyond Diversity Strategies practice and how do you support your clients?
I currently work as an associate for The Raben Group, a public affairs and strategic communications firm based out of DC. My firm has six practice areas; media & communications, government affairs, beyond diversity strategies, impact entertainment, issue campaigns & movements and strategic planning. I’m officially a part of the BDS team but I have clients in the strategic planning and media & communications practice areas as well. My client list includes The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Earthjustice and the Center for Financial Planning just to name a few, and each client has different needs and requires different skills. My role demands a lot of project management and thinking strategically about what success looks like for each client and what steps need to happen to achieve that.
How has your Marxe MPA experience been? What do you aim to do with the knowledge you gain from the program?
I can honestly say that I’ve gotten everything I wanted from my Marxe MPA experience plus more. My cohort is amazing, they bring real world experience to class discussions that always push me to look at things from different perspectives and I’ve met colleagues that I’m going to be friends with for a lifetime. Everyone at Marxe is invested in our success from Career Services to faculty to quantitative tutoring. One of my main reasons for coming to the Marxe School was to become more well rounded, and during my time here I’ve had the opportunity to add a lot of new tools to my toolkit and polish some old ones as well. Also, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from amazing instructors like Professors Greene, Perrotta and Hernandez, who have helped me prepare for whatever happens next in my career. As for what comes next, I plan on staying in the public policy and strategic communications space and I’m hoping that the knowledge I gained from the program will help me climb the ladder into more senior positions.
What have you learned as Research Assistant to Professor Sonia Jarvis?
If you have a passion for racial justice work, or anything for that matter, there’s no better person to learn from than Professor Jarvis. Her resume speaks for itself: from the work she’s done as the Executive Director for the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation to her time working on President Clinton’s Initiative on Race, her wealth of knowledge and insight is immense. I tried to be a sponge the entire year we worked together, and the work we’ve done has definitely shaped my perspective on what racial justice advocacy should look like. The research that we worked on was focused on many different topics and issues, but I’ll say most of my time was spent doing research on reparations and voter suppression. Before I came into conversations around racial justice with a lot of passion, but from working with her I have the knowledge to go along with that.