Brush Avenue native Aleatha Williams is no stranger to politics. When she was two years old her mother brought her to see Bill Clinton get his party’s nomination at the 1992 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden.
Fundraising is maybe the most important part of any politician’s job, and at just 20 years old, Aleatha has that part down pat. She started a scholarship program for college-bound seniors from Truman High School, Columbus High School and her alma mater, Pelham Prep.
The scholarships were awarded at a ceremony on Saturday, June 25 at the Chippewa Democratic Club on Ferris Place.
“What inspired me was that I had a lot of opportunities that other children did not have,” Aleatha said. “I built connections to many different politicians, the Bronx especially, and I had a lot of mentors. That’s something a lot of children don’t have.”
Each of three $500 scholarships was donated by a borough politician. Senator Jeff Klein, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Congressman Joe Crowley pitched in.
Aleatha, along with the ten-member, Youth Leaders on the Move group that she heads, decided the scholarships should go to students who were not necessarily the highest-achieving, but who showed the most improvement from their junior to senior years.
The recipients were recommended by their teachers and principals. Winners were Dana Gethers of Pelham Prep, who is attending Hunter College in the fall, Jeremy Hooper-Jones of Columbus, heading to Berkeley College, and Michael Lewis of Truman, attending BMCC.
The program was originally born out of a barbecue Aleatha and her mother Patricia hosted at their home three years ago. When they saw how many politicians they could get to come out and interact with local high schoolers, they decided to do it again in 2010, but set it up as a more official meeting between elected officials and Bronx youth. The scholarship program came along in 2011.
Despite the heavily Democratic flavor to the politicians around Aleatha, she said that she wants to make sure future Youth Leaders on the Move initiatives are non-partisan.
The group is currently raising funds to take some Bronx high school students on college visits around the Northeast. It is also planning a voter registration drive.
“I’m trying to separate it from being a political group,” Aleatha said. “We’re trying not to get involved in the races.”
Aleatha just finished her sophomore year at SUNY Plattsburgh and is interning at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s New York City office. Despite her background, the 20-year-old said she has no interest in going into politics once she enters the professional world. She is studying magazine journalism and plans to be an editor.
Nevertheless, civic activism is in her DNA. Alathea’s grandfather was an alderman in Trinidad and Tobago. Her mother, Patricia, has been volunteering on political campaigns for decades and brought her to see Al Gore get the Democratic Party’s nomination in Los Angeles.
“I grew up in public service and politics,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”