Alumni Spotlight: Joy Lawson

Joy Lawson photoJoy Lawson is the Director of Young People For. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 2006, with a degree in Women’s Studies.

Read more from Joy here:

How were you involved with Choice USA?

JL: A mentor and advisor for the feminist group on campus approached me about the Choice USA chapter. They encouraged me to apply for the Gloria Steinem Leadership Conference in Washington DC.  There I was exposed to a holistic and intersectional approach to progressive issues and equipped with a skill set that would allow me to go back to my community to enact change.

Once I returned to campus, all fired up, I heard that the Kansas School Board was trying to let the sex education bill sunset so that the more conservative members could push an opt-in policy (which would require all parents to sign a permission slip for their children to receive sex education) and an abstinence only agenda.

Because all Kansas youth deserve the truth, our Choice USA chapter worked in coalition with other local and statewide group to launch a campaign for sex education. In this campaign we gathered a collective 8,000 petitions from students, teachers, nurses, parents, clergy from across the state; we presented testimony at school board meetings; and ultimately we negotiated an opt-out policy and local school board control over the content of the curriculum.

It was here that I really learned the power that young people hold to create change that lasts. It was because of the investment in me that I landed my internship and then subsequently my first job out of college.

For my work on sex education I was awarded Choice USA’s Generation-to-Generation Chapter Leadership Award and soon after joined the staff at Choice USA as a National Field Associate and later as the Midwestern States Field Coordinator.

What do you do now and how do you continue to apply the things you’ve learned from Choice USA?

JL: I’m currently the Director of Young People For, a program of People for the American Way Foundation, a leadership development program focused on identifying, engaging, and empowering young progressive leaders to effect positive change on their campuses and in their communities.

While making the decision to leave Choice USA was difficult, I saw the need to build power cross issue through talking about intersectionality with a broader spectrum of progressive leaders. Also, it was clear to me through my work at Choice USA that there was a need to engage leaders not for a weekend, or a campaign, or until they graduate – but over their lifetimes. The skills and tools I learned at Choice USA helped me build YP4’s Alumni Programs.  Here I’ve worked to ensure that the relationships and work completed during the YP4 Fellowship are sustained and supported over the long-term. Since 2010 over 60% of the 1000+ alumni of Young People For have reengaged with the program and the YP4 Alumni Network has become a community of young progressives committed to cultivating and supporting YP4 programs and fellows through mentorship, networking, advanced leadership trainings and much more.

What are your top priorities in politics and/or reproductive justice?

JL: I’m really concerned with the continued influence that corporate money plays in politics and the implications that has for young voters, communities of color, and other traditionally marginalized communities. I’m concerned about the recent and continued waive of voter suppression laws and what it means to cast ballots that count.

With that I’m increasingly concerned about the privatization of our schools, prisons, and detention centers and what this means for young people from marginalized communities.

Who inspires you?

JL: The staff of Young People For, young leaders across the country generating ideas and creating change in their communities, people who fight for what is right and not what is easy.

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