University: Columbia University
Major: Political Science with a concentration in Ethnicity and Race Studies
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Biography: My name is Travis Nelson and I am a sophomore at Columbia University. First and foremost, to the most high I am forever indebted. I am exceedingly blessed because there is nothing in my story that suggested I’d get to where I am or even achieve any measure of success. I grew up in a single parent home in Hempstead, NY. Within the 3.68 square miles that encompass our community reside more than five separate communities. Turf wars, if you will. Nevertheless, I am not the product of my circumstances but rather a single mother’s prayers, travail and earnest in making sure her children were successful. I vehemently denounce the colloquialism that “the sky is the limit” because the sky should not be our limit but only our direction and with my religious and domestic foundation propelling me I have no other option but to fly.
Throughout my life I have had a persistent commitment to reforming law and public policy. This commitment is deeply personal as a first generation low-income, black man. For me, public policy has been the driving motivator for all of my endeavors. I found it deplorable that the structural inferiority of my community was normalized. Children shouldn’t be desensitized to the death of their peers, have to celebrate reaching 18 years of age like it’s the least expected age to turn, witness rampant political corruption, not expect to graduate high school with more than half of their class, not consider college a feasible option or be complacent with the knowledge that no measure of success is expected from their life. Therefore, my drive for better public policy manifested into action in high school when I addressed the racial tension between the African American population and the Hispanic population in my community. I realized the latter wasn’t conducive to any progress thus, I became the student spokesman for my school district. It was a platform where I used my influence to rally students together in support of equal representation of all ethnic/cultural voices in every level of our community. This included school boards and the mayor’s office as well as my own collaboration with the Long Island Civic Engagement Table and the New York Civil Liberties Union, where I participated in street organizing to build electoral power in communities of color across Long Island. Furthermore, I worked to address the issue of prejudice towards men of color in my community as well as the social inequities of education by co-founding 2 Young 2 Die “2Y2D”: a community based non-profit organization that aims to enhance the lives of young people of color by providing them with the life skills and services necessary to become responsible, aware, and engaged citizens. It is all of the aforementioned that prompted my aspiration to be a public servant. I earnestly believe that through my life, work, and example I can shine some light in the darkness and prove to be the rule NOT the exception.
In 2016, I became the first Questbridge Scholar from my hometown with a scholarship to Columbia University where I have chosen to study political science. I pursue my passions in a nonacademic setting as the Chapter Dean of Membership and the Social Media Chairperson for the Eta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. as well as the Assistant Chaplain of the Eastern Region of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. In addition, I am currently on the board of the Political Science Student Association which serves as the liaison between political science students and the academic department and I am the Community Relations Chair of the Columbia University QuestBridge Chapter, which is part of a nationwide network of low-income students and facilitates programming to aid those students in their collegiate career. Moreover, I am the Pre-Professional Representative for the Activities Board at Columbia, which oversees 193 student groups at Columbia and is responsible for allocating $500K across these groups, and the President of the Multicultural Greek Council, which is comprised of all the multicultural Greek organizations represented at Columbia University. Most recently, I joined the student advisory board of the Eric Holder Jr. for Civil and Political Rights where I help to provide strategic guidance for peer-to-peer programming and student engagement opportunities. Exercising the power of my capacity in high school and at a prestigious institution like Columbia has given me valuable experiences in what it means to change the culture of an institution through initiative and policy. After Columbia, I look forward to a graduate education in law and public administration as well as beginning my political career. Through my various involvements, I hope to foster a culture of global synergy because a house divided cannot stand. Through our collective efforts, we can keep moving forward.