Jasmine B. King, political science major, was recently chosen to participate in the University of California Berkley Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute.
The seven-week program that kicks off June 10 and ends July 28 is designed to enhance students analytical and quantitative skills. King, a junior, is among 30 undergraduates selected from across the nation.A native of Vicksburg, King said she was surprised, excited and a little nervous when she received the acceptance email.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I actually got in,’” she said. “It’s supposed to be a prestigious opportunity to gain connections, so I felt like my life was going to change for the better and I didn’t know how to take that.”
After reading the correspondence, King said she finished her assignments then told her boyfriend and mom the news. “It took me about a week to tell my professors. It took a long time to process,” she said.
“Jasmine is one of the busiest bodies in our department,” said Dr. Byron D’Andra Orey, professor of political science.
During her sophomore year, Orey said King presented her research on the psychophysiological response that black people have to police at three political science conferences. Since then, she has participated in several summer internships, attended a workshop at Harvard and even turned down an offer from Duke University to be a Ralph Bunche fellow.
“I have no doubt she will be successful in whatever direction she chooses to go,” he said.
King is definitely ambitious. While taking a full course load, she works on the criminal justice reform team for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Part of her duties includes reviewing letters from juvenile and adult inmates seeking assistance with resources or obtaining their freedom. She is also a Mary Ellen Pleasant Entrepreneur fellow, a program supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the Museum of Art, King is a teaching fellow, which gives her a moment to rejuvenate.
“I research the artwork and give tours. I love it. It’s really enjoyable and allows me the opportunity to talk to people and get out of my zone a little bit and do something very interesting concerning art, which is outside of my normal routines like politics and law,” she said.Unsure of her graduate school plans, King said she is leaning towards law school because of her desire to help people. Although she enjoys her work with SPLC, she said it can be a little disheartening.
“It’s very emotional work, very emotional. It’s also a really good cause. I’m interested in criminal justice reform and civil rights law,” she said. “I’m leaning towards corporate because that’s where the money is, but I also want to do pro bono work for nonprofits as well.”
One thing is for sure; King said she wants to create a nonprofit that focuses on black children in Jackson. “I want to enhance their mental and emotional development, so they’re prepared for life after high school, and they know what resources and opportunities are accessible to them,” she said. “I feel like I can still be beneficial to low-income communities or the African-American community even if I’m not a criminal justice or criminal justice reform attorney.”
The junior said her desire to start a nonprofit stem from her work with the SPLC. King said she wants to understand why so many minority youths are entangled in the criminal justice system and put a stop to mass incarceration.
“I feel a large part of reform needs to focus on preparing children. If they had resources, opportunities, advocates and mentors available, there would not be this matriculation from youth offender to adult offender.”
Despite her intentions, King said she is torn between staying in Mississippi and moving out of state. However, she described her time at the HBCU as a really “awesome” journey that has provided her with several opportunities that she may not have received attending a predominately white institution.
“The professors here are focused on seeing black students succeed like my professor Dr. Orey. He’s amazing. He saw something in me that I probably didn’t see in myself until now,” said King. “He’s encouraged me to do certain things that I know will help me in the long run. There are a bunch of professors who have been very fundamental to my growth. Being at Jackson State and this HBCU, in particular, has also been fundamental to my growth.”