ACE Alumnus, Jevaughn Williams ’19 Works With Elected Officials to Uplift Communities

ACE Alumnus, Jevaughn Williams ’19 Works With Elected Officials to Uplift Communities

ACE Alumnus, Jevaughn Williams ’19 Works With Elected Officials to Uplift Communities

Jevaughn Williams ’19, a Law and Society major and Accelerate, Complete, and Engage (ACE) alumnus, has always valued the importance of getting a good education. “For 11 years, I lived in Kingston, Jamaica in a primarily female household,” he said. “There were 12 of us in the house, and at times things could get rough. But one thing that my family always concentrated on was education. We knew that no matter what struggles we were facing, our education came first.” So when Williams came to Brooklyn, New York at just 11 years old, he understood that the pathway to success was paved by working hard in school and getting a good education. What Williams didn’t anticipate was the challenges he’d face adapting to American culture.

“One thing that my family always concentrated on was education. We knew that no matter what struggles we were facing, our education came first.” —Jevaughn Williams

“When I came here, I lived with my aunt, who is a math professor, and went to a Catholic school. Even though I went to a Catholic school in Jamaica, it wasn’t the same. The teaching style was different and the English language was different,” Williams said. “In Jamaica we speak English, but we speak a different dialect, so I struggled with certain teachings of the English language. And there were certain words that I would say that sounded strange to kids here, and a few would make fun of me for it. There was even a time when I would practice how to speak in front of a mirror so that I could learn to hide my accent. But for the most part, I had great teachers and classmates who were supportive of me and wanted me to succeed.” It’s because of the support of his family, teachers, and classmates that Williams was able to graduate high school, come to John Jay, and move one step closer to his dream of becoming a lawyer. 

Jevaughn Williams
Williams

Coming to John Jay
Attending Aviation High School in Queens, New York, John Jay was not initially on Williams’s mind. “Since my junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. But I really wanted to go away for college,” he said. To that end, Williams only applied to State University of New York (SUNY) schools. He was looking forward to the experience, when a month before classes, he learned that his transcripts were never sent out, and he could not attend any SUNY school. “When I found out, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had worked so hard to get to that point, and all of the sudden college felt completely out of reach,” he said. Not willing to give up, Williams spoke to his high school guidance counselor who advised him to apply to the City University of New York (CUNY) schools.

“York College was the first CUNY school that I actually got a reply from. The day I went to give my deposit for them to hold my seat, I got an email for ACE here at John Jay inviting me to an orientation,” Williams said. “I was confused because I never received the acceptance letter from John Jay. But when I got home, as soon as I walked into the door, my mom handed me the John Jay acceptance letter.” After showing his mother the email he had received from ACE, they both agreed that he should come to the orientation and see what John Jay had to offer.

Taking an hour and a half trip from his home in Cambria Heights, Queens to John Jay, Williams was eager to see the College, meet the people, and speak to the ACE advisors. “When I arrived to the orientation, I met DeLandra Hunter, Director of the ACE  program, and Berlyn Morales-Witten, Associate Director of ACE. They had us do an icebreaker, and in a moment that would usually feel uncomfortable, they made us feel comfortable,” he said. Crediting ACE with his decision to come to John Jay, Williams said that the support he received from the program made it easier for him to focus on his classes and graduate in four years. “ACE was there for me during the times I was struggling with my classes or needed a bit of guidance. ACE makes you aware of every option that is available to you based on your interest, so there was never a path that I couldn’t go down.”

“ACE makes you aware of every option that is available to you based on your interest, so there was never a path that I couldn’t go down.” —Jevaughn Williams

Taking Steps Toward the Law
With his focus on going to law school, Williams took a political science class to better inform him about the legal field. What he didn’t know was that this class would not only provide him with a deeper understanding of politics, but also offer him a chance to get hands-on experience working at the New York State Assembly. “One of the requirements for this political science class was to complete an internship for the semester. I spoke to my professor and was told about a program that would match me with legislators in Albany, New York, or in New York City,” he said. “I applied and was matched with Assembly Member Clyde Vanel in Southeast Queens, who happens to be my assembly member.” Williams quickly learned the ins and outs of working in a legislative body. And, with a month before the semester was over, Williams was offered a full-time job there as a Community Liaison. “The biggest task as a Community Liaison, is building that relationship between the community, government agencies, and officials. You have to provide them with accurate information, communicate with them, and build a level of trust and respect. My time at ACE taught me how to do this,” he said. “And from what I’ve learned, an open communication, built on trust and mutual respect, creates a stronger community.”

“The biggest task as a Community Liaison, is building that relationship between the community, government agencies, and officials. My time at ACE taught me how to do this.” —Jevaughn Williams

Working with Assembly Member Clyde Vanel for a year and a half, Williams said that he loved being able to interact with the people from his community and creating bonds between community members and elected officials. This, he said, encouraged him to look for other opportunities to expand his work within government. “One day I saw that New York State Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, in Brooklyn, New York, had an opening for a Community Liaison. I reached out to the Senator herself and was able to get an interview. I’ve been here for a month now and I’m really enjoying the work.”

Jevaughn at graduation with Dara Byrne, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Retention and Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Williams at graduation with Dara Byrne, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Retention and Dean of Undergraduate Studies

Looking Forward to a Career in Law
Currently studying for the LSAT, Williams is looking forward to attending law school and becoming a lawyer. “I want to become a lawyer because I want to help people, make sure that they understand their rights, and are treated properly. And unfortunately, unfair treatment happens a lot in minority communities because there isn’t someone who looks like them there to represent them,” he said. “We see all too often instances where members of underrepresented communities are taken advantaged of because they don’t know what their rights are or because they don’t have the means to seek counsel. I don’t want to see anyone in a situation where their rights aren’t protected. I want to be an advocate for minority communities and the voice that fights for their rights and equal treatment.”

“I want to be an advocate for minority communities and the voice that fights for their rights and equal treatment.” —Jevaughn Williams

Looking back at his time at John Jay, Williams encourages current and future students to take advantage of everything the College has to offer. “There are so many professors who are eager to help students and so many resources available to you. I encourage everyone to use the resources John Jay has to offer because you will fail no one else but yourself if you don’t get out of your comfort zone and discover everything available to you.” And when asked what John Jay did for him, Williams didn’t hesitate to answer. “Without John Jay, the professors, the friends I made, and ACE, I would not have been able to get out of my comfort zone and see the world of possibilities around me,” he said. “I wanted to go away for college, but John Jay helped open my eyes to what the City has to offer, and I know that without the College I wouldn’t have realized my potential in helping to better the community around me.”