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.

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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I'm The College Girl Who Likes Trump And Hates Feminism, And Living On A Liberal Campus Is Terrifying

I will not sugarcoat it: I don't feel safe on my own campus.


I will get right to the point: being a conservative on a liberal college campus in 2019 downright terrifying.

At my university, I'm sure about 90% of the population, both students and faculty, are liberals. They are very outspoken, never afraid to express their views, opinions, and feelings in several ways. There are pride events for the LGBT community, a huge celebration for MLK day, and tons of events for feminists.

Then there's the minority: the conservatives. The realists. The "racists," "bigots," and "the heartless." I am everything the liberals absolutely despise.

I like Donald Trump because he puts America first and is actually getting things done. He wants to make our country a better place.

I want a wall to keep illegals out because I want my loved ones and me to be safe from any possible danger. As for those who are genuinely coming here for a better life, JUST FILL OUT THE PAPERWORK INSTEAD OF SNEAKING AROUND.

I'm pro-life; killing an infant at nine months is inhumane to me (and yet liberals say it's inhumane to keep illegals out…but let's not get into that right now).

I hate feminism. Why? Because modern feminism isn't even feminism. Slandering the male species and wanting to take down the patriarchy is just ridiculous.

I hate the media. I don't trust anyone in it. I think they are all biased, pathological liars. They purposely make our president look like the devil himself, leaving out anything good he does.

I will not sugarcoat it: I don't feel safe on my own campus.

I mostly keep my opinions to myself out of fear. When I end up getting one of my "twisted" and "uneducated" thoughts slip out, I cringe, waiting for the slap in the face.

Don't get me wrong; not everyone at my university is hostile to those who think differently than they do.

I've shared my opinions with some liberal students and professors before, and there was no bloodshed. Sure, we may not see eye to eye, but that's okay. That just means we can understand each other a little better.

Even though the handful of students and faculty I've talked to were able to swallow my opinions, I'm still overwhelmed by the thousands of other people on campus who may not be as kind and attentive. But you can't please everybody. That's just life.

Your school is supposed to be a safe environment where you can be yourself. Just because I think differently than the vast majority of my peers doesn't mean I deserve to be a target for ridicule. No one conservative does. Scratch that, NO ONE DOES.

I don't think I'll ever feel safe.

Not just on campus, but anywhere. This world is a cruel place. All I can do is stand firm in my beliefs and try to tolerate and listen to the clashing opinions of others. What else can I do?

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Dear Young Voices Of America, Stand Up, Speak Up, And Do Something

Our time is now.


Dear young voices of America, I think we can both agree that we are sick of being told we are America's future while simultaneously being told our opinions don't matter. Now I personally do not listen to the people that tell me I'm better seen than heard; however, I know there are people that are a little timider when it comes to raising their voices. I am here to encourage you to be loud and speak up on topics that matter to you. There is no better time than the present to make your voice heard. Whether you are advocating for change in your school or the government, your opinion matters and is relevant.

We are the future of our country. How are we supposed to evoke change and reform if we can't have our voices heard? I call bullshit and I think it's time to take action. Even if you're the first or only person to advocate for your cause, be that person. Don't be afraid of anyone that tries to stand in your way. The only person that can stop you from speaking up for yourself and your cause is you. No matter how many nos you have to hear to get a yes or how many doors you have to knock on to get someone to open up, never give up. Never give up on your cause, never give up on yourself or the people you're representing, just don't do it. There is someone out there that supports you. Maybe they're just too shy to raise their voice too. Be encouraging and be supportive and get people to take a stand with you.

It is never too early or too late to start thinking about your future or to take action. But don't hesitate to say something. The sooner you start speaking up, the sooner you have people joining you and helping you, and the sooner you start to see and experience change. So get up, make that sign, write that letter, make that phone call, take part in that march, give that speech. Do whatever you feel fit to get your point across. Shout it from the rooftops, write it on your profile, send it in a letter, ignore everyone that tries to tell you to give up. Maybe they don't understand now, maybe they don't want to listen, maybe they're afraid to listen, but the more you talk about it and help them understand what exactly you are trying to get across, they will join you.

Even when it feels like you have nobody on your side but yourself, I am on your side. I will cheer you on, I will march with you hand in hand, I will write letters and make phone calls and help you find your voice. My life changed when I found my voice and yours will too.

So dear young voices of America, the time is now. Your time is now. Don't be afraid of the obstacles that you may have to face. Someone is out there waiting for you, waiting to grab your hand and march on with you. As Tarana Burke once said "Get up. Stand up. Speak up. Do something."

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