Kennedy Reese believes in living with intention. She found her passion for public policy through a gender minorities health disparity class for her previous undergraduate major, biochemistry. Deciding she wanted to get involved in the legislative decisions affecting different communities, Reese, now a graduate student, switched her major to public policy to learn how to create the changes she wanted to see.
“What inspired me from the beginning … was that I realized the black community was really vulnerable to a lot of these legislative changes and has been historically and that a lot of these policies or predicted outcomes right now are a direct result of the policies that were instilled before,” Reese said. “If I’m going to have any sustainable impact on my community for the better, it’ll have to be through legislation.”
Reese, who also received her undergraduate degree from USC, has worked on instigating and promoting change on and off campus throughout her five years at USC.
She currently works as a fellowship coordinator for the Public Rights Project, a nonprofit that works to protect Americans’ rights by providing support to state and local law offices. Reese runs the program’s fellowship programming, which helps attorneys transition to the public works sector.
“A lot of local offices are underfunded and understaffed, so basically Public Rights Project is trying to bridge the gap,” Reese said. “If it’s a staff issue, OK, well, let’s help you get staff; if it’s any pro bono work we can do to alleviate the pressure, OK, we can do that.”
In her time at USC, Reese has held various roles in California politics, including an internship with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign, the Los Angeles Attorney’s Office and Sen. Kamala Harris’ 2016 U.S. Senate campaign and a fellowship with the office of Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr.
On campus, Reese has worked as a Social Justice Specialist — she led a series of Real Talk discussions for the Center for Black Cultural and Students Affairs at USC, which cover social and campus climate issues. As a leader for Real Talk from August 2017 to December 2018, Reese said she facilitated conversations about relevant issues, brought in elected officials to participate in Real Talk sessions and created field opportunities for participants to foster change through activities like neighborhood canvassing.
“I also have a passion for political engagement and engaging young people to care about politics,” Reese said. “At our CBCSA, I created programming targeted at our student population to get people involved in activities. I brought elected officials from all different levels of government, consultants [and] nonprofits, and they either spoke, or we did some kind of speaking engagement for the students coupled with some kind of field opportunity to either work with that nonprofit or go canvas a neighborhood.”
Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs Director Rosalind Conerly said Reese is a dedicated leader who always made and progressed new ideas for Real Talk events.
“Once we said, ‘Hey, you’re the lead on Real Talk,’ she kind of took that and ran with it and really made it her own … She was able to identify speakers to bring in on her own, that was all her connections,” Conerly said. “I would say she’s someone that’s very resourceful, very organized.”
But Reese’s dedication to sharing her passion extends beyond the workplace, according to Conerly, who said Reese brought in several copies of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” to share with her peers.
“There’s a GroupMe that she’s in, and she’s like, ‘Hey I bought all these books, if anyone wants one stop by CBCSA, you can have it,’” Conerly said. “It’s certain things she’s doing because she just wants to share with her peers.”
There are certain difficulties in public policy, according to Reese, that made her realize self-care is essential for taking care of herself and her communities.
“There’s a general apathy about politics that I feel like is difficult to tap into … I think there’s basic things we can all agree on,” Reese said. “But translating that into getting people to the polls or to the ballot box — it’s just not the same.”
But Reese’s passion has carried her through the tough patches, inspiring her to stay involved and stay active in creating change.
“I have to realize, ‘OK, I did my part.’ I can’t control everything. I can’t follow everything,” Reese said. “It’s learning when and how to take breaks before I’m beginning to internalize all the world issues.”
Despite the challenges, Reese said her dedication to public policy refuses to wane.
“I have to be at a table where decisions are made,” Reese said. “Because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
This story is part of the Daily Trojan’s special coverage for Black History Month. It will run periodically throughout February.