Jesse Amankwaah, '21

January 11, 2021
Senior champions marginalized people through political activism, serviceĀ 

When constituents call, Jesse Amankwaah, ’21, answers. He recalled working as a fellow in the office of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in summer 2018 when a young man and his wheelchair-bound wife came through the door. Having spent their last dime on medical care for her, the couple faced homelessness.

“My co-worker and I spent several hours calling shelters, but because many shelters close in the summer, we were coming up empty-handed,” Amankwaah said. “Eventually we found a shelter with availability in another city and gave the couple bus tokens to get to that city.”

Working in politics provides opportunities, such as this one, to champion the marginalized, said the senior from Ewing, N.J., who is studying leadership studies and political science at University of Richmond. He is particularly committed to helping immigrants, minorities, and victims of sexual violence.

“I am an immigrant myself,” Amankwaah explained. “My parents emigrated from Ghana to Germany, where I was born. In Germany, they faced systemic racism and a serious battle to secure employment and a decent education for their children. When I was five, we moved to the United States to pursue the American Dream.

“The first ten years in the United States were hard. My parents worked all kinds of jobs. Once my dad earned his GED, things began to get better.”

Shortly after arriving at University of Richmond in fall 2017, Amankwaah began working in the political realm. As a workforce policy intern in the office of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, he compiled financial data on many workforce development programs and connected constituents to various government departments.

Working for Mayor Stoney in summer 2018 gave him a taste for how local government functions. A stint as a Planned Parenthood community-organizing intern in Richmond from May 2018 – May 2019 exposed him to grassroots organizing, including canvassing for U.S. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger’s reelection campaign.

“Leadership studies has informed my ethics, intercultural skills, and interactions with others,” Amankwaah said. “Political science helps me understand where I am structurally—from a bird’s eye view of state government when I was working for Governor McAuliffe to a ground-level view when I was working for Mayor Stoney and Planned Parenthood.”

In summer 2019, Amankwaah served as a teaching assistant in the Princeton University Preparatory Program, a college-access program for low-income, high-achieving scholars from six neighboring New Jersey high schools. Having participated in the program himself as a high school student, he was eager to give back by mentoring others.  

This past summer he studied economics, statistics, and policy analysis virtually through the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute Fellowship Program at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. The fully funded, graduate-level preparation program targets undergraduate juniors committed to public service careers.

While completing the PPIA Program, he simultaneously completed his Jepson internship at Zenith Wealth Partners, a financial planning and wealth management firm based in Philadelphia. “I developed financial literacy workshops for Black and Brown communities,” he said. “I learned the public and private sectors don’t exist in silos, but are part of the same eco-system.”

His University leadership roles—including as first-year, second-year, and third-year class president for the Richmond College Student Government Association; student liaison to the President’s Advisory Committee for Making Excellence Inclusive; and resident assistant—have given him platforms for addressing racial equity and sexual violence on campus, Amankwaah said.

He has applied for a Fulbright grant and is also considering law and public policy dual-degree graduate programs.

“I want to stay close to politics to ensure minoritized people are represented.”