Student to Continue Social Activism With Help From Two Fellowships

UPDATED, April 21, 2015 at 1:20 p.m. to add that Blackwell will participate in Humantiy in Action's site in Warsaw, Poland.

A pair of fellowships will help University of Virginia student Ashley Blackwell fight hunger and discrimination this summer.

Blackwell, 21, of Charlottesville, a fourth-year Urban and Environmental Planning major in the School of Architecture, has received the Humanity in Action fellowship and the Congressional Hunger Center’s Bill Emerson National Hunger fellowship.

“I feel deeply honored and shocked to receive these fellowship opportunities,” Blackwell said. “When I found out about receiving the Humanity in Action Fellowship, I burst into tears because this will be my first time abroad and I cannot imagine a better orientation to another country. … The Emerson Hunger Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to learn how to bridge the gap between community-based efforts and national policy surrounding issues of poverty, hunger and social inequality.”

The Humanity in Action Fellowship explores the social and political roots of discrimination and provides a forum for potential solutions. It is a monthlong fellowship in either Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris or Warsaw; Blackwell will be working in Poland.

The Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program offers students leadership training, providing field experience with poverty and hunger through placements in community-based organizations across the country, as well as policy experience in Washington, D.C. Blackwell does not know where she will be working for this fellowship, valued at between $40,000 and $50,000.

The program bridges community-based efforts and national public policy, so fellows develop as effective leaders in a movement to end hunger and poverty.

The Emerson Program supports local and national approaches to eliminate hunger, poverty, social inequality and racism, crafting partnerships between fellows and other organizations, developing a new generation of leaders. Fellows support partner organizations with program development, research, evaluation, outreach, organizing and advocacy projects.

Blackwell is currently working on her fourth-year project, using the City of Charlottesville as a case study to recommend best-case practices for redeveloping affordable and public housing into mixed-income and mixed-use developments in the Strategic Investment Area, which includes the Martha Jefferson, Belmont, Ridge Street and Fifeville neighborhoods. She based her proposals on research and interviews with key residents and local officials. 

“The Strategic Investment Area is an opportunity for the city to reinvest in the African American and low-income populations that were devastated by the city's urban renewal policies,” she said. “This is a critical opportunity to sustainably and equitably revitalize a community that is central to the cultural and historical significance of Charlottesville. My research will be provided to key stakeholders in this process from residents to community foundations and local government officials.”

Andrus G. Ashoo, associate director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, thinks these fellowships will give Blackwell an opportunity to continue the work she has started.

“Ashley Blackwell combines the intensity and critical analysis of a prosecutor with the warmth and empathy of the best teacher you could ever hope to have,” Ashoo said. “Ashley genuinely cares for the well-being of all people – and especially the disenfranchised. The Humanity in Action Fellowship is an opportunity for her to continue to interrogate existing power structures in a global context, while the Emerson is an opportunity to work in the trenches as a part of a cohort, acquiring necessary skills and experiences for a life committed to the social welfare of others. It is no surprise that she received either of those cohort-based awards as she is humble, confident and a joy to be around.”

Blackwell is a co-founder, support chair and mentor of the United for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity; community outreach coordinator for the Restore AccessUVA campaign; community organizer for the U.Va. Students United; and a mentor for the Young Women Leaders Program.

She was a fellow of Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Leadership Institute, a research assistant in the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, an intern for the City of Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development, an intern for the Piedmont Housing Alliance and a research assistant for the Charlottesville Rights to Education Project.

Blackwell is a Rainey Scholar and a full-grant aid beneficiary of AccessUVA. She also received the 2015 John T. Casteen III Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Leadership Award.

Carol Anne Spreen, a former associate professor
in the Curry School of Education’s Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy, praised Blackwell for her ability to analyze information from a wide array of disciplines.

“She brings a level of experience, maturity and passion to her interests that are well beyond her years,” Spreen said. “Ashley is a deep thinker and great listener with laser sharp insights, particularly into issues of equity and social justice.”

Spreen said Blackwell has done a good job leading teams of various interests and motivations to a common goal.

“From grassroots advocacy for quality early-child care; to raising funds and public awareness about the inequality in housing, transport or opportunities to learn; to creating support systems for low-income students once they’ve reached the University; Ashley has very publicly and powerfully taken on numerous struggles at the University and beyond, around access, equity, justice and socioeconomic diversity,” Spreen said. “This is her strongest asset – her passion and commitment to direct and lead equity-based social change, combined with her exceptional judgment and deep critical engagement in how to go about doing so.”

Blackwell believes these awards will help broaden her horizons.

“These fellowships are opportunities to sharpen my understanding of the world around me through the lens of social justice so I can continue to dedicate my life to advocating for a more equitable and inclusive society,” she said. “Meeting people from around the world and nation who are dedicated to human rights and social justice from different backgrounds and perspectives will challenge me to grow and learn in ways that will be key to my personal and professional development.”

Blackwell said she might pursue graduate studies in urban planning or public affairs, with the goal of creating an innovative community model to provide multiple pathways out of poverty. 

These fellowships provide Blackwell an opportunity to explore other challenges and solutions.

“I am thrilled to have the chance to be exposed to different cities and countries and collaborate with people from varying backgrounds and perspectives who are passionate about the human struggle,” she said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications