Students connect with alumni changemakers

Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

By Ashley A. Williams

Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Students connect with alumni changemakers

By Ashley A. Williams
As part of the Leadership UMiami program, students heard from community leaders who spend their careers fighting for social justice and attended a day-long summit on democracy and social change.

As the Leadership UMiami program wraps up until the New Year, the Butler Center for Leadership and Service hosted a panel of alumni from the University of Miami’s School of Law who work closely within the tenants of democratic engagement and social change—exactly what the leadership program is designed to instill in the students participating. 

Don Horn, a prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office; Evian White De Leon, deputy director of Miami Homes for All; and Cheryl Little, executive director and co-founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice­, discussed how their careers became their passions and answered questions from the 24 students in the leadership program. The panel was moderated by Sarah Artecona, associate vice president of community engagement, and coordinated through her team in the Office of Government and Community Relations.

Leadership UMiami 2020 participants during the alumni changemakers panel.Not surprisingly, the questions centered on the four issues the students decided to focus on when they began the program: civil rights, foreign relations, social classism, and gentrification. One student was moved to tears by Little’s advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

“The recent panel left me speechless,” said senior Dinora Orozco, the president and founder of the UM chapter of Lucha Latina. “I was at a loss for words from all of the speakers. It is people like Ms. Little who give me the faith and strength to keep going. She is an ally of the undocumented community and has proven this through her many years of work.”

Ajiri Uzere, a sophomore from Bentonville, Arizona, who is majoring in political science and psychology, said the panel discussion was the perfect way to conclude the program that has enabled her to engage in more meaningful, thought-provoking conversations.

“This experience has made me more conscious in the way I move not only through UM, but move through life in general,” Uzere said. “In spaces I occupy as a leader, I have learned to deviate from the typical assumption that everything is fine and start the conversation of what more can be done to make the future of our organization better.” 

Junior Randy Fitzgerald, who aims to attend law school in fall 2021 and become a prosecutor like Horn, said it has been an honor to be part of Leadership UMiami.

“It has helped me to better visualize the opportunity and the privilege provided to us by a University of Miami education­,” Fitzgerald said. “The program is helping us to understand the tools available to us so that we can use these newfound opportunities as means of change for good.”

The following day, the Butler Center hosted a Democracy and Social Change Summit at the Shalala Student Center to offer students further hands-on learning. During the 12-hour summit, members of the program were taught how to navigate online resources to locate local, state, and national laws and how to contact elected officials. 

Additionally, students engaged in breakout sessions that helped them gain the competencies and tools needed to enact change in an increasingly diverse nation and world. To conclude the day, the four groups were given a case study challenge around their selected issue. Within their teams, they  created a one-page flyer and presented a 15-minute presentation to showcase how they would persuade elected officials and other constituencies on their position for the issue.

“It was truly amazing to see the engagement by the students around their individual case studies and the amount of detail and passion they put into their presentations,” said Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center.

The panel discussion and the summit were the last formal sessions of the fall semester before program participants and advisors meet for a week in January. Next month, they will explore democracy in Miami and then travel to Washington, D.C. to engage in advocacy with elected officials, meet agencies working on specific social justice, and explore museums throughout the nation’s capital.  

This is the third installment in a four-part series following Leadership UMiami's 2020 cohort.

Leadership UMiami 2020 cohort headshots