Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her work as an activist promoting education for girls and women, said, “One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” In other words, education helps us to change the world.
I first enrolled in higher education in 2011, taking classes full-time at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. Due to a range of personal issues, including issues with my mental wellness, I dropped out of Rowan University in 2013 with a shoddy 1.7 GPA. It took two years for me to return to college – in 2015, I attended my local community college, Ocean County College, balancing a part-time courseload with my part-time job. When I completed my associate’s degree in liberal arts in 2018, I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA. I then studied at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, earning High Honors in political science with a minor in English. For a second time, I earned a post-secondary degree with a perfect 4.0 GPA, and won the dual distinctions of Paul Robeson Scholar for my undergraduate thesis work, and Edward McNall Burns Scholar for my perfect academic record. Now, I study at the highly-ranked Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy as a graduate student. Halfway through the Master of Public Policy degree program, with a concentration in Social Justice & Advocacy, I currently maintain a 3.94 GPA. My research interests include socioeconomic inequality, healthcare policy, and criminal justice—specifically drug policy and housing programs.
Higher education remains a significant priority in my life because I plan to enter into a career in civil service, both in the nonprofit and public sectors. A variety of personal experiences motivate me to pursue a career path that will alleviate poverty and pain. For instance, during my first semester at Rutgers University, I suffered the heartbreaking, devastating loss of my best friend, Joey, to a drug overdose. His own life experiences led him down the path to his passing, especially issues relating to socioeconomic inequality and the criminalization of mental illnesses. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, entirely abandoned by the parents who first exposed him to opioids, and practically homeless at times, my best friend’s upbringing and overall environment molded him into the person who would eventually succumb to his illness. I believe that his life could have been spared if public policies existed to provide for an effective non-criminalizing approach to treat those living with a substance abuse disorder, including treatment for any underlying mental health issues that feed addiction. An advanced degree like the M.P.P. equips me with the intellectual resources necessary to pose a persuasive argument in favor of radical drug policy reform. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid overdoses became an epidemic in the United States, ravaging urban, suburban, and rural regions alike. It is high time that those in positions of power, like the medical experts in the healthcare industry, treat substance abuse disorder like a diagnosable illness, not some heinous crime, in order to truly save lives and prevent others from needlessly losing their loved ones the way that I lost Joey.
As a teenager, I experienced housing insecurity. Reflecting upon that period of my life, I decided to work to create public policy interventions to address housing insecurity. Housing is health: mental, physical, and emotional. This fact became more valid than ever as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, I accepted a summer associate position at the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey as a Public Policy, Research, and Planning Coordinator focusing on supportive housing and homelessness prevention. The HCDNNJ is a community-based nonprofit organization, comprised of a network of nearly three hundred nonprofits across the state that work to mitigate housing insecurity through both direct and indirect action, including policy advocacy.
Although I cannot solve these societal problems alone, I believe that real change is made when all of us come together as a collective and push against the tide of poverty, inequality, and suffering. When people who believe that a better world is possible collaborate and work together to bring about their shared vision of world bent toward humanity, compassion, and justice, mountains can move. With my academic credentials and professional work, I will humbly add my voice to the growing clamor of those who went unheard for far too long. Although I tirelessly strive toward this ultimate goal, I must admit that financial hardship dogged me throughout my entire life, most especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I lost my job in March 2020, and now I face the daunting task of paying for rent and other bills. As someone who grew up with an absent father and an untraditional family environment, I rely entirely on self-support, financing my graduate degree with over $20,000 in student loans every year. I would be so humbled and relieved to receive the support of the Micklin Law Group, LLC as I work and study to, as Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change I want to see in the world.