From professors to internship supervisors to community members, it is often the leaders we encounter and the conversations we share that shape our lives.

As a sophomore Bonner Scholar, TJ Tann, ’21, attended a dinner with Kirsten Lodal, CEO and co-founder of LIFT, who was in Richmond for the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s 2018 Engage for Change! awards gathering.

By the end of the dinner, Tann knew that he wanted to apply for an internship with the organization, and nine months later, he headed to D.C. to work as a LIFT coach.

"Working with the leaders who ran LIFT-DC was a highlight of my entire summer," Tann said. "I [will] thank them always for the work they do and the impact they had on me."

LIFT operates in Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York to partner with high-quality community and early childcare organizations and engage and support parents.

"I worked with about 15 families helping them set, plan, and achieve educational, career, and personal goals," Tann said. "I also collaborated with the LIFT-DC and national teams on a number of projects, including developing a program for families with entrepreneurial aspirations and the foundation of a possible policy arm of LIFT."

Tann enjoys opportunities to connect deeply with individuals while finding ways to advocate on their behalf.

"If people need that voice to speak out for various communities, I have no problem being that," Tann said. "Everybody can always be of help to someone, and that should be our shared goal."

During his sophomore year, he also served as a development intern with The Commonwealth Institute, assisting in organizing their Policy Summit, and was co-president of the Multicultural Student Solidarity Network (MSSN) on campus.

Tann is currently studying abroad at Queen Mary University of London taking courses in politics and international relations, but the people he worked with this summer are never far from his mind.

"The people that I had the opportunity to work with impacted me just as much as I hoped I impacted them," Tann said. "I will always remember the families I worked with and never forget that the fight for economic justice and equality is ongoing."

When he returns to Richmond this spring, he will continue his Bonner Scholars Program placement at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) in their new offices located in the UR Downtown building at 7th and Broad.

He credits his reading of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness with his pursuit of the LAJC internship.

"I had always thought about the possibility of law school, and reading that book led me to think about how I could take real action of my own," Tann said. "I started thinking about the option of helping underrepresented communities through pro bono, advocacy, or policy work."

During his first semester with the organization, he worked as a client intake coordinator and aided two LAJC attorneys with research on immigration customs enforcement and evictions.

"The work that LAJC does providing legal representation for those who may not otherwise afford it perfectly aligns with my interest in combating inequalities," Tann said. "Whatever I do going forward, I will always be looking for ways to make a positive impact on people in whatever capacity I may be operating in."