Above: Thompson’s grandfather teaching a college course in the 1970s.
My name is Gina Thompson, and I’m a new intern for the Michigan League for Public Policy. I’m a second-year graduate assistant in the Master of Public Policy program at Michigan State University where I spend a lot of my time looking at the impact of policy on the Black community. I first became interested in working for the League when I read their commitment to racial equity because it is that same desire for equity that ultimately led me to the field of public policy.
I’m the child of LGBTQIA+ parents, a graduate of a Quaker high school, an HBCU alum (the North Carolina Central University Eagle is no ordinary barnyard fowl), and my favorite flavor of ice cream is Ben and Jerry’s “Milk & Cookies.” I enjoy biking on Lansing’s River Trail, spending time with my family and grilling outside when the weather is nice.
I spent a bit of time with my grandparents as a child. My grandparents are from a sleepy, North Carolina town, where sitting in a rocking chair on the porch is the highlight of the day—otherwise known as rural America. Like many other Black Americans in the Jim Crow South, they had no choice but to survive. For them, surviving meant leaving for a bigger city where there were more educational and economic opportunities. I’d often make the trip with my grandparents to see family.
Inequitable policies have long since dictated which areas of town have sidewalks, better schools, more reliable public transportation, public assistance eligibility requirements and many other issues. Whenever we went to visit, there was a noticeable shift between the two sections of a city surrounded by crops that once led its residents to the middle class—cotton, tobacco and corn.
Sprawling estates with flowing fountains by the front door soon turned into condemned buildings with roofs falling in. There were houses with bars on the windows once we crossed some railroad tracks. Spending time in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina always felt like a fever dream, but for many, this was reality. I never understood how policy played a role in a community’s demise until I got older. One reason I became so interested in studying public policy was that it impacts everything in daily life. When made without equity in mind, it can lead to the downfall of communities and their residents.
We must call on our elected policymakers to enact equitable policies because we can no longer afford anything but forward-thinking policy. We should no longer have to plug the leaking boat with tape; it’s not fair to our most vulnerable communities and it never has been. Many of the issues we’re seeing today in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others due to the (over-)policing of race-class subjugated communities—and the health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19—are direct results of systemic racism. Perhaps the issue isn’t one of ignorance, but rather one caused by a lack of accountability.
I feel called to do policy work because of this. As a Master’s degree candidate, I have a certain amount of privilege. Many people who look like me in Michigan aren’t given the same opportunity. These issues have been swept under the rug for far too long, and it’s time we do something about it. Here’s to my time with Michigan League for Public Policy—let’s get to work.