Puffin Fellows Plan Civic-Minded Projects to Expand Political Equity

Political equity is on the minds of young civic leaders today. Whether it is the expansion, promotion, or restoration of political equity, the integrity of our democracy depends on it. That is why The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) recently partnered with the Puffin Foundation to launch the Puffin Fellows program, a multi-year fellowship for young leaders designed to address issues of political equity through policy change and grassroots organizing.

Keeping in line with AGF’s vision that “young people will become active, engaged citizens who ensure a just democracy and sustainable future,” we scouted the most innovative project proposals with the most potential for significant impact. Five Puffin Fellows will be working on local and national scale policy projects for the next two years to ensure that all people receive equitable treatment under the law. What is especially exciting is that all members of the inaugural class of Puffin Fellows are alumni of the Vote Everywhere program.

Pictured above from left to right: Usjid Hameed, Megan Newsome, Maydee Martinez, Valencia Richardson, and Dana Sweeny

“I think that voting rights restoration brings us closer to political equity by ensuring that as many people have a seat at the decision-making table as possible. For too many people in too many states, the prison system is designed to facilitate a sort of civic death,” said Puffin Fellow Dana Sweeney. Dana’s project is an evolution of his work as a Vote Everywhere Ambassador at the University of Alabama. He will be working to train canvassers and community organizers on the process of voting rights restorations for formerly incarcerated individuals. “My years serving in Vote Everywhere were extremely formative for me, and they gave me a powerful framework for combating structural obstacles to voting,” Sweeney continues. “The Puffin Fellowship gives me the opportunity to apply that framework to larger voting barriers, well beyond my college campus.”

Georgetown Law J.D. candidate and former Fulbright Scholar, Valencia Richardson is excited about the opportunity and expressed, “I am honored to join this cohort of innovative change-makers in our collective efforts to demonstrate that young people can make substantive change to the policies affecting them.” Richardson will be working to increase access to the polls for college-aged persons, the nation’s largest living generation.

The project is in many ways an extension of Valencia’s work as a Vote Everywhere Ambassador at Louisiana State University. During her tenure, she led the successful passage of Louisiana House Bill 940. The law required four-year public universities in the state of Louisiana to redesign student identification cards so students could use them as a valid form of identification at the polls.

Puffin Fellow Megan Newsome at the 12th annual Moral March on Raleigh, North Carolina

Both Maydee Martinez and Megan Newsome will be addressing policy issues in Florida, a state filled with an astounding number of laws that restrict and suppress voters. Martinez hopes to partner with the local Miami school board to launch a voter education program targeting the Hispanic/Latinx and African-American communities. According to 2016 Census Bureau data, both Hispanic and black turnout declined between 2012 and 2016. Newsome’s project will focus on confronting the question of how environmental issues affect communities throughout the state. Specifically, she will be working to mobilize young voters, high school through college-aged, in hopes of passing legislation to protect the environment.

Usjid Hameed, Public Affairs Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Columbus, Ohio Chapter), plans to increase civic access for non-native English speakers through a new language translation program at the polls. He states, “America is made complete by immigrants from many different lands; we must ensure that all citizens regardless of where they come from, are able to participate in the political process.” Hameed plans to institutionalize translator services by connecting multilingual poll workers with districts who could use additional support.

AGF’s Executive Director Sylvia Golbin Goodman, who is guiding the launch, says she is excited about the Puffin Fellows program. “We are thrilled to partner with The Puffin Foundation to create this opportunity for our country’s brightest, young leaders. Whether they’re interested in civic policy, civil or voting rights, social justice, or other forms of civic engagement, we know that our Fellows have the potential to affect long-term change that yields a more just and equitable future.”

About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.