Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Joins the John Jay Community for an In-depth Conversation

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Joins the John Jay Community for an In-depth Conversation

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Joins the John Jay Community for an In-depth Conversation

Congressman Hakeem Jefferies represents New York’s Eighth Congressional District, including parts of Brooklyn and Queens, in the United States Congress. He’s a member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Budget Committee. He’s Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and he’s the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. And on, February 18, 2021, the Congressman sat down for an in-depth conversation with President Karol V. Mason.

The event, sponsored by the Office of External Affairs, the Department of Africana Studies, and the Department of Political Science, was part of John Jay’s celebration of Black History Month. During the conversation, the Congressman spoke of his path to public service, his experiences in the halls of Congress, his work on criminal justice reform—he authored legislation in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and sponsored the First Step Act—and his fight to get Covid-19 relief for the state of New York. He also proudly spoke of his work with John Jay alumni, who he credits with informing how he approaches his role as an elected official.

Read on for the inspiring experiences John Jay alumni have had working with Congressman Jeffries.

James Ladi WilliamsJames Ladi Williams ’15
Researcher, Urban Institute

In the summer of 2014, I was an intern for Congressman Jeffries. He taught me that elected officials have significant opportunities and power to use their platforms to bring government closer to the people. I was encouraged by the many examples the Congressman set in this regard, from building systems to analyze and respond to constituents’ letters, to organizing phone calls with them to talk through their pressing concerns. Whenever congress was not in session, the Congressman would head back to his district in New York and hold outdoor office hours, to inform constituents about what he’s been up to in Washington and also listen to constituents’ concerns, all with a goal of understanding how he might help meet their needs. The lesson I learned from Congressman Jeffries was that it’s important for leaders to bring government closer to citizens.

“The lesson I learned from Congressman Jeffries was that it’s important for leaders to bring government closer to citizens.” —James Ladi Williams ’15

On the last day of my internship, Congressman Jeffries invited me to his office for a one-on-one conversation. He asked me about my internship experience, my studies at John Jay, and what I hoped to do with my career. I told him about my passion for government and interest in public service in my home country of Nigeria. He asked about whether I had plans to go to graduate school, and I let him know that I was looking into public policy programs. In turn, he told me about his own career path and shared a bit about what it was like to serve as a freshman congressman at the time. 

“Soon after my meeting with the Congressman, he asked his staff to reach out to the White House to see if it would be possible to extend an invitation to me to attend a Town Hall with President Obama and the 500 young African leaders organized as part of the Summit. The Congressman’s gesture stood out to me because it showed that he really listened to me and cared enough to use his platform to support my learning.” —James Ladi Williams ’15

The year of my internship, President Obama was hosting a Presidential Summit of the Washington Fellowship of Young African Leaders, which brought 500 young African leaders together to engage with U.S. leaders across government, civil society, and the private sector. Soon after my meeting with the Congressman, he asked his staff to reach out to the White House to see if it would be possible to extend an invitation to me to attend a Town Hall with President Obama and the 500 young African leaders organized as part of the Summit. The Congressman’s gesture stood out to me because it showed that he really listened to me and cared enough to use his platform to support my learning, even with his busy schedule and demands on his time.

Congressman Jeffries speaking at Awad’s criminal justice reform event
Congressman Jeffries speaking at Awad’s criminal justice reform event

“Prison reform brings the left and right together.” —Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

Jasmine AwadJasmine Awad ’19
Assistant to Chief Financial Administrative Officer, Student Activities Association, & Children’s Center Business Office

In 2018, I was interning at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, D.C. There I had the opportunity to meet Congressman Jeffries at a criminal justice reform event. The event was to discuss and promote the First Step Act, which was eventually adopted later that year in December. He was such a dynamic speaker, and I remember one of my favorite comments from him was, “Prison reform brings the left and right together.”

“He was such a dynamic speaker. I’m excited to hear about Congressman Jeffries’ new efforts on criminal justice reform.” —Jasmine Awad ’19

Many of the courses I took at John Jay introduced me to the heinous issues within mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. This Act was a light at the end of the tunnel. To see people from different parties come together to discuss the importance of making the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, limiting solitary confinement for youth, giving formerly incarcerated people the chance at successful re-entry, and providing resources for necessary reform was inspiring. I believe that he’ll be at the forefront of even further legislation to address similar issues. I’m excited to hear about Congressman Jeffries’ new efforts on criminal justice reform. 

Marie FigueroaMarie Figueroa ’10
Community Engagement and Outreach Coordinator
Office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries

The Congressman has a saying that “a knockdown is different from a knockout.” If you can still get up and fight, then you always have a chance. It’s a lesson he learned himself when he ran for the New York State Assembly and lost twice, before being elected to the represent the 57th District in Brooklyn. It’s this lesson of perseverance that I think of the most as I work in government and as we face these unprecedented times. Working in government is like a marathon. It’s about the long-term game, which requires both determination and persistence.

“The Congressman has a saying that ‘a knockdown is different from a knockout.’ If you can still get up and fight, then you always have a chance.” —Marie Figueroa ’10

One of my favorite memories with the Congressman has been when we hosted our Congress on Your Corner event (pre-pandemic). Every summer, we will host outdoor office hours in different neighborhoods across the district. It was during these one-on-one moments that I saw how much each person’s issues truly matter to the Congressman. At the heart of our mission is to help the residents of the Eighth Congressional District in every way possible. Be it passing legislation in Washington, D.C., to standing on a street corner and hearing directly from constituents about issues related to parks, sanitation, or transportation, no issue is too small. The Congressman is always looking to engage with the communities of the Eighth Congressional District. Since the pandemic began, we’ve planned events to connect with constituents via telephone town halls, Facebook Lives, and PPE distribution.
 

To support informed participation in our democracy, the College provides access to public officials in their official capacity and candidates without regard to political party affiliation or policy views. Views expressed are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the College. See http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/legal_counsel/pol_activitie...