City Year founder tells his story at 'DEIS Impact

Alan Khazei delivered the keynote address for Brandeis' annual festival of social justice

Photo/David Weinstein

Alan Khazei with "'DEIS Impacters," Brandeis students who helped organize the festival.

Alan Khazei and Michael Brown were assigned as roommates their first year of college. To say they hit it off would be an understatement.
The pair remained roommates for the next 12 years and -- more importantly -- developed a passion for social justice, eventually co-founding national service program City Year, which became a model for Americorps.
"Somebody knew what they were doing when they put us together," Khazei said jokingly.
Khazei, now CEO of non-profit Be the Change, Inc., was the keynote speaker Feb. 3 at 'DEIS Impact, Brandeis' annual festival of social justice. Now in its fourth year, the festival features more than 40 events over 10 days organized by students, professors, clubs and academic departments.
"We didn't have ‘DEIS Impact when we were in college, but we would stay up late with our friends talking about social justice issues, asking ourselves why is America the richest country in the world, yet we have such deep poverty? We came upon this idea of national service and we were thunderstruck," Khazei said.
Determined to start a national service program in the U.S. after finishing college, Khazei tried to secure a travel fellowship to study national service programs in other countries. He applied for three and finished as the runner-up for all of them.
"At the time, I thought it was a disaster, but it turned out to be the best thing," Khazei said.
Instead, he found his way to Gary Hart's 1984 presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire. Hart would eventually concede the primary, but not before pulling a surprise win in New Hampshire. Working along side the likes of Eli J. Segal and future U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Khazei learned the power of grassroots organization. He took those lessons and started City Year with Brown in 1988, slowly growing the program from a small operation out of an old warehouse in Boston into one of the country's biggest service programs.
Following his speech in the Levin Ballroom, Khazei took questions from the audience and Tam Emerson, program director for the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program and a former City Year volunteer. Khazei encouraged students to be determined in their pursuits of social justice.
"History is on our side, eventually the world comes around, but it takes great sacrifice," he said.
A collaboration between the Brandeis Undergraduate Student Union and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, 'DEIS Impact offers a series of social justice-focused events that are conceived and brought to fruition by students and faculty. The festival is supported by the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice. Khazei's address was co-sponsored by the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program.
More information on 'DEIS Impact, including a full schedule of events, can be found on its website.

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