Alan Khazei discusses civic engagement in 'Deis Impact keynote address
Last Tuesday, Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and CEO of Be The Change, Inc., gave the keynote address at Brandeis’ fourth annual ’DEIS Impact festival of social justice. His speech was titled “Social Change Through Civic Engagement and Pragmatic Idealism.”
In 2006, U.S. News & World Report listed Khazei as one of “America’s 25 Best Leaders” and in 2010, Khazei authored Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out The Best in America. Khazei graduated from Harvard Law School and co-founded City Year with Michael Brown, his Harvard roommate. City Year, a nationwide service program, brings young adults ages 17 to 24 to participate in community service through teaching, educating and advising children. City Year influenced the development of AmeriCorps, a national youth service, in 1994.
Director of the Eli J. Segal Leadership Program Tam Emerson, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Student Union President Sneha Walia ’15 introduced Khazei at the event.
“[Khazei] embodies what this week is, of young idealism and large scale impact,” Emerson said. “We need to know that service matters because it will make a difference in our society.”
Flagel reiterated the role of ’DEIS Impact as a celebration of social justice and a week of distinctive events, discussing Louis Brandeis and his efforts to achieve social justice. “The keynotes of ’DEIS Impact are not only incredibly successful, they are changing the world for the better through their efforts,” Flagel said.
Walia welcomed Khazei to the stage. “DEIS impacters, event organizers and volunteers throughout the week have worked tirelessly to make the vision of social justice a reality,” she said. “One of the best individuals to look for when thinking about ‘DEIS Impact is [the] keynote speaker, Alan Khazei, who, propelled by the spirit of social justice, has devoted his life to service and citizenship in order to make the world around him a better place.”
Khazei suggested that Brandeisians should spread ’DEIS Impact to other schools, saying that, because this festival is such a great model and example, Brandeis students should have the opportunity to spend a semester with City Year and receive credit for doing service work.
Khazei thanked University President Frederick Lawrence for his “leadership in pushing ’DEIS Impact,” and thanked the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program. Khazei said that Segal was his top mentor and closest friend. As a citizen, “Eli founded AmeriCorps, founded Welfare-to-Work, [served as] chair of City Year [and] helped numerous not-for-profits.” Khazei said “[Eli] changed my life… and his spirit is the spirit of ’DEIS Impact.”
Khazei said that his parents got him interested in social justice. His father left Iran to come to the United States, and as an immigrant, taught him both that he could be anything he wanted to be and the importance of fighting for the country’s ideals of freedom and democracy. He said his mom came from an Italian background and she taught him about the diversity of people, saying that everyone has unique characteristics to give.
“The idea is that no one organization, no matter how successful or how big, can solve big complex societal problems by itself,” Khazei said.
Shedding light on citizenship and collective action, Khazei mentioned poverty, recent tragic events involving race and class, the education system and the prison system. “You’re going to be the change because the problems we face are serious,” Khazei said. He also mentioned new technologies that are assisting and making citizen action “more possible and more powerful than ever before.”
City Year has received support from President Clinton and is now in 25 cities in America and spreading to countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa. So far, almost a million people have served AmeriCorps, contributing 1.2 billion hours of service.
Khazei currently serves as the CEO of Be The Change, Inc., a nonprofit organization. Be The Change develops and maintains national campaigns impelled through large associations that promote cultural change and increase the progress of public policy in order to make positive changes in our communities.
The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, the Student Union and the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership cosponsored the event. Founded in 2007 by Khazei, the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program commemorates Segal’s work to promote leadership through developing AmeriCorps and Welfare-to-Work initiatives. There are 77 fellows in 15 states, who range in age from 19 to 42.