Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Talks Millennial Issues

Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Talks Millennial Issues

The New York Representative talks with Odyssey about student loan debt, inequality, and other issues in this wide-ranging interview.
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This interview was conducted via phone in the fall of 2015, but the questions and responses remain relevant, and will be so for the foreseeable future.

The Representative: Hakeem Jeffries grew up in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and has served New York's eighth congressional since 2013. He sits on the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Previously he was a member of the New York State Assembly for the 57th district from 2007 to 2012.

The interviewer: Wandy Ortiz is a Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised student at St. John’s University, majoring in English and French. She is glad to have become a contributing writer and interviewer for Odyssey.


Odyssey: What actions have you taken in Congress or causes have you championed to improve the lives of college students and recent graduates in your district?

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: Well, I have introduced legislation designed to reduce the interest rate on student loans, recognizing that the government should not be making money on the backs of college students.

Odyssey: Increases in college tuition have been outpacing inflation for a few decades, and now the amount of student loan debt has surpassed the credit card debt held by all Americans. What specifically can Congress do to rein in these costs, if anything?

Rep. Jeffries: Well, the fact that student loan debt is an excess of $1 trillion is deeply troubling. We need to increase support for grant programs such as the Pell grant awards that have consistently over time helped hundreds of thousands of young people make it through college. We need a system that is less reliant on loans, and has more engagement with respect to grants and other forms of financial assistance.

Odyssey: Beyond college costs, which three political issues affecting 18 to 30-year-olds aren’t being talked about enough?

Rep. Jeffries: There’s a jobs crisis in America that puts young Americans at a significant disadvantage. We need to make sure young people have access to good quality jobs upon graduation. We need to make sure we have a fair and just criminal justice system consistent with our founding principles. Lastly, we need to make sure we address the hosing affordability crisis in America so that young people can pursue their dreams of home ownership.

Odyssey: Congress has a notoriously low approval rating among Americans, regardless of the party in control. Why is the branch that’s supposed to represent the people thought of so poorly by them?

Rep. Jeffries: Well, Washington is broken, and the American people recognize that. Instead of partisan political battles, the American people want us to tackle issues related to the economy, housing and education that are important to the quality of life of communities. Congress needs to get back to doing the people’s business and stop bickering.

Odyssey: What’s one specific policy issue on which you’ve bucked your party’s consensus?

Rep. Jeffries: I’ve consistently supported education reform efforts such as the availability of charter school in communities where the Public Schools system has traditionally failed our children. Many members of the Democratic Party in New York are anti-charter. I think it is one of the tools that can be utilized to improve high quality education.

Odyssey: In your current position, which vote do you most regret making and why?

Rep. Jeffries: I can’t recall a vote that I have regretted to date, although there is one instance, now that I think about it, where there was a bill on the floor related to eliminating the surplus military equipment program that provided high- tech weaponry to local police departments. I voted to support the continuation of that program in the summer of 2014, prior to the situation in Ferguson occurring. After Ferguson, it became clear that local police departments were receiving military equipment that they weren’t prepared to properly utilize, and that the program was out of control. And with the hindsight of 20/20, having known then what I know now, I would vote to discontinue, or dramatically reform the program.

Odyssey: Since 1965, who was the best president not named Barack Obama or Bill Clinton and why? [The question was asked this way to remove the most likely choices for the Democratic congressman. Republicans Odyssey interviewed were asked the same question, excepting Ronald Reagan.]

Rep. Jeffries: Well, president Lyndon Baines Johnson was an extraordinary American president on domestic issues. He signed into law the 1965 Voting Rights act; he signed into law the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which is responsible for such programs as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and college work study. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but is one of the most significant presidents of the 20th century.

Odyssey: Which interest group or lobby has the most undue influence on Capitol Hill, and why?

Rep. Jeffries: Well, big oil companies have had outside influence on energy policy in America in a way that is damaging to our environment. I’ll leave it at that.

Odyssey: The gap between the rich and poor continues to get bigger. What statistical indicators do you use to analyze this? What is your solution?

Rep. Jeffries: Well, income inequality between the top 10% in this nation and the bottom 20% has grown dramatically since the Great Depression. Many economists have now concluded that the tremendous gap in income and wealth hurts economic productivity, and is something that Congress should come together to fix.

Odyssey: What does the word “equality” mean to you and how do we achieve it as a country?

Rep. Jeffries: Well, opportunity under the law for all Americans, regardless of race, religion, country of origin or place of birth, here in America. The American people don’t want a handout, they want a hand up, and our policies should reflect, providing working families with the opportunity to pursue the American dream.

Odyssey: Finally, if you could have a drink with any non-politician dead or alive, who would it be and what would you drink?

Rep. Jeffries: That’s a great question. A Brooklyn Lager with Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.

Cover Image Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Supporting Late-Term Abortion Is Actually The Opposite Of Feminism

Feminism is about gender equality and women supporting women- so shouldn't we support the unborn women of tomorrow?

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Before you read this, if you are someone who feels strongly that abortions are the "right" choice and that supporting late-term abortions is a step for woman anywhere, I do not suggest you read this article. However, I do want to write that I support conditional abortions- situations where the birth can kill the mother or where conception occurred because of rape. If someone rapes you, that is not okay by any means, and a baby conceived of rape can be terminated by the mother to avoid PTSD, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and any other mental health diagnoses. Of course, if a woman can bring a baby into the world to keep or give up for adoption, even if it was the product of rape, she should seek life for the innocent child rather than death. And what a rape victim chooses to do is neither here nor there- and it damn well is not anyone else's business.

So why should it be my business (or anyone's) if women have late-term abortions? Agreeing to murder out of convenience should not be societally accepted as okay. When the law passed in New York for late-term abortions, I did not picture 39-week pregnant women rushing to Planned Parenthood to abort their child because they got cold feet. I highly doubt that is the exact scenario for which the law went into effect for, and that was more so intended for women who did not realize they were pregnant and missed the time period to get a legal abortion.

Not that I support early-term abortion, because all abortion is the same regardless of when it happens during the pregnancy. Killing someone sooner rather than later does not make it less worse.

Excuses about how women are not ready to be mothers, do not have the financial means, would ruin their futures, they would get kicked out, lose their bodies, etc. are just that- excuses. Carrying a child for nine months might be an inconvenience, but killing someone will be on your conscience forever. If murders pleaded their motives to police as a way to justify what they did (excluding self-defense), what difference is it if a woman kills her unborn child?

Planned Parenthood might be taboo and have a stigma attached to it, but it does so much more than kill babies. Planned Parenthood is a place where girls can go to see OB/GYNO, get birth control, and learn about safe sex, protection, STDs, etc. Instead of stigmatizing it, young women should be encouraged to go to this institution for woman and feminism. Let high school health classes plan field trips there so that everyone becomes more educated on female health (boys included!). Female health education is very limited, especially in school, and many women feel that an abortion is their only way out, however, it's not. By becoming more educated, the rate of teen pregnancies can go down, as well as the need for abortions. Women educating other women should be the goal of Planned Parenthood, and abortions should be reserved for those who got raped or whose pregnancy cause death, health complications, etc.

Abortion might be giving women a choice- but who is giving the unborn babies a choice?

And of course the only way to 100% prevent pregnancy is abstinence, and if that is your choice then good for you, and if you choose to have sexual intercourse, good for you too. Be safe. No slut shaming here. Women need to continue supporting other women, regardless of their sex life. Women who have abortions are not "whores" and should not be labeled as such- they are just people whose biology reacted to another person's biology.

If you truly do not want to have a baby, please please please give it up for adoption and do not kill it. It did nothing wrong, and yeah, it might be a little inconvenient to be pregnant, especially if you are in school, but there are hundreds of thousands of people that would love nothing more than to raise your baby. Be a woman supporting other woman and give the gift of motherhood.

If you take away anything from this article it's this:



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