Ebonie Riley is an undergraduate Political Science major and President of the Africana Studies Council of Majors at UMBC.
At UMBC I have learned how to focus my aspiration to make a difference in my community. I have interacted with great professors here on campus in several different departments who have fueled my interest in community activism. I completed an internship at the National Action Network in Washington, DC, seeking justice and experiencing hands-on civic activism in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. That experience, coupled with a research project at UMBC, clarified my career plan: I’ll pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science.
But first, I hope to make a difference on campus, getting students involved in academic and community life. I was working as a student aide in the Department of Africana Studies when I saw an opportunity to build student support for the department and its programs. Using organizing techniques I learned at UMBC and from National Action Network D.C. Bureau Chief Janaye Ingram, with plenty of support from Africana Studies staff member Wanda Soares Nottingham, I recruited peers to reactivate the long-dormant Africana Studies Council of Majors. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. As my professors have helped me discover, the capacity to recognize and respond effectively to a need is the hallmark of an activist.
One of the lessons I took away from my internship was that people need to be equipped with the knowledge to be informed voters in local or state elections so they have a say in policies that will affect their daily lives. But understanding the political process is not an easy feat. As a Political Science major, I thought it would be important to bring a Member of Congress to campus to interact with young adults who would be able to ask questions about issues like student loan, college affordability, the economy and the job market. I hope you’ll join me for Empowering Young Americans: A Conversation with Congressman Elijah Cummings, in the UC Ballroom at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 18th.
If I could leave something for other students to think about it would be this: Vote. And remember that civic engagement means more than just voting; it also means being active in their communities and holding elected officials accountable. No matter who you are, you can shape your community.
Contact the author, Ebonie Riley, at firstname.lastname@example.org.