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

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.

Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.


Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

This is Cyntoia Brown And THIS is Why She Deserves To Be Freed, Immediately

A glimpse inside the incarceration of a Tennessee woman who was sentenced to life behind bars for killing a pedophile who solicited her for sex.


In 2004, Cyntoia Brown, a Tenessee woman, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who solicited her for sex when she was only 16 years old. Now, 14 years later, the court has ruled that she must serve 51 years in prison before she is eligible for parole.

So, what happened to Brown all those years ago? Brown says at the time of the murder, she was living with her abusive boyfriend who would often physically and sexually abuse her, force her to sell sex for money, and pump her full of drugs to make her more controllable.

Brown was picked up on the side of the road by a 43-year-old insurance agent named Johnny Mitchell Allen. Allen brought Brown to his home, showed her his extensive gun collection, and then came onto Brown. Brown then resisted Allen's sexual advances. After being rejected, Allen reached below his bed. Brown assumed he was reaching for a gun, and then shot Allen with her own gun out of fear of being shot herself. On the morning of the shooting, Brown's abusive boyfriend advised her that she better come home with money that day. Out of fear of her boyfriend, Brown then stole money from the dead man's wallet and left the home.

Since then, prosecutors have argued that Brown's intentions were to rob this man from the very beginning, though Brown and her lawyers insist that the shooting was done out of self-defense. It's worth noting that Tennessee law states that any sex work done by minors is ruled sex slavery. Brown was 16 years old, and practically in the custody of a man who is said to have repeatedly raped and solicited her to have sex with other men for money. She was under the control of someone stronger and more threatening than herself. She was scared and did what she thought she had to do to make it out of that situation alive.

I'm in no way condoning murdering someone. It's just pretty appalling to me how courts are so quick to send this woman to prison for the rest of her life when proven sexual predators like Brock Turner are given six-month sentences and only made to serve three for raping an unconscious woman in a park. How in the world does shooting a pedophile out of self-defense warrant a more severe punishment than raping a defenseless woman? Does this make sense to anyone? If so, please enlighten me.

Now, people across the country are pleading Tennessee governor Bill Haslam to grant Brown clemency before his term is up in a few weeks. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna have shared their sympathy for Brown on social media, which has garnered a lot of publicity from a younger demographic.

On Monday, Governor Haslam gave a speech on education at the Nashville Public Library. After being asked about the amount of justice within Brown's case, Governor Haslam said: "We're reviewing a lot of cases, and while Cyntoia's case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don't think you want us to treat her's any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review."

Haslam said everyone in his office is looking very deeply into Brown's case and he will make a decision on whether or not to grant Brown clemency before his term is up in a few weeks.

Haslam's conservative reputation could be impacted by his potential decision to show Brown mercy. It all comes down to how he wants to be remembered as a governor. My hope is that justice is shown and that Brown is treated as a victim of sex-slavery, rather than a killer and a thief. No person should be sent to a life behind bars for trying to defend themselves.

Related Content

Facebook Comments