‘Tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you 10 ways that I can’

“Since the age of 14, my outlook has been, ‘tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you 10 ways that I can,’” says Tony Parsons (MPM’24), a participant in the National Urban Fellows (NUF) Program at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “I may not think I can do something now, but that doesn’t mean I never will.”

That determination has driven Parsons, former foster youth and first-generation college graduate, to a life focused on child welfare policy. Parsons spent much of his childhood in foster care in a small town outside of Detroit, Michigan, before being adopted at age 3 into a family that would eventually include 24 siblings, 22 of whom were adopted. His experiences in foster care, loss of his adoptive parents, and struggles with his mental health and identity as a Black man inform his advocacy for underrepresented, underserved populations. As a first-generation college graduate, he is “trailblazing the way” for his younger siblings. 

After spending several years post-graduation working on child welfare issues as a federal policy specialist for a nonprofit organization and a consultant with the Administration for Children & Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Parsons enrolled in the 14-month NUF program.

NUF: Creating pathways to public service

NUF seeks to strengthen the pipeline of leaders and change agents in the public and nonprofit sectors by investing in mid-career professionals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, particularly people of color and women, who are committed to public service, racial equity, and social justice. Participants receive a full-tuition scholarship for their master’s degree program at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, which became the academic home for the 50-year-old NUF program in 2019. 

NUF’s leadership development model helps ensure that talented students from diverse backgrounds can pursue careers in public service and earn an advanced degree without the overwhelming student debt that can prevent students from working in less-lucrative but high-impact careers. Fellows also take part in a nine-month fellowship residency, are mentored by senior executives, and receive ongoing racial equity and leadership training and coaching by NUF staff.

‘Making the changes I want to see in the world’

Through NUF, Parsons has become a policy management fellow at Oakland Thrives, an organization working to improve economic mobility, literacy, and health outcomes for children, families, and communities in Oakland, California. He has also connected to other child welfare advocates in California through NUF’s extensive network.

“The opportunities NUF has given me are invaluable,” Parsons says. “As Fellows, we’re not only receiving a high-quality education, but we’re also applying the lessons we learn in the classroom in real life.” Parsons intends to pursue a law degree or a Ph.D. after graduation and to one day achieve a goal he’s had since age 17: a 2044 presidential run.

“In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back into the workforce and making the changes I want to see in the world,” he says.

Read more about Tony Parsons in the McCourt School’s Student Spotlight series, which highlights the experiences of emerging policy leaders.

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