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Racial Justice Advocate and NYU Alum on What Keeps Him Hopeful About the Future

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My academic coursework introduced me to critical race theory, to issues surrounding representation and the harmful tropes about poverty, crime, and the black community circulated by the media.

In a year that has weighed heavily on many, Media, Culture, and Communication alum Janerick Holmes (BS 2011) is buoyed by the resilient and passionate fellows that pass through the Racial Justice Institute at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

Now in its 7th year, the Institute has graduated 300+ professionals (largely from the legal services professions) that constitute an expanding cadres of social justice advocates. Fellows work in teams on a 7-month long equity project; afterward, they return to their respective careers committed to the hard work  of improving equity for communities in need: from fair housing law, to voter disenfranchisement, access to affordable healthcare, consumer protections, to diverting youth from entrapment in the juvenile prison system.

As the Institute’s Associate Director, Holmes leads much of its programming. The Institute promotes a systems thinking approach, which teaches fellows how to identify areas for intervention by first mapping out the structures that perpetuate harm in an effort to get to the root cause. An essential part of this is to collaborate with the impacted communities to “understand the problem from their perspective and reach a conclusion that best suits their needs.” He details some of the outcomes that have resulted from this approach in a blog post How Advocates in the Deep South are Putting Race Front and Center of Anti-Poverty Advocacy.

Holmes admits that he didn’t foresee this career path for himself while a Media, Culture, and Communication major at NYU. But in hindsight, it all follows. “My academic coursework introduced me to critical race theory, to issues surrounding representation and the harmful tropes about poverty, crime, and the black community circulated by the media,” he explains. Many of the problems the Shriver Center tackles require shifts to entrenched narratives. It’s why Holmes believes that a main component of the fellows’ work is learning how to reframe issues and how to strengthen critical communication skills for improved racial justice advocacy.

“Advocates leave with a shared vocabulary, with a basic language to discuss the issues they’ve identified as problematic and in need of change. And they join a growing network of fellows who share this commitment to ensuring that the color of your skin is not a determining factor in your access to opportunity,” says Holmes.

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