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Many young people have grand aspirations to change the world; not all actually do. Dewayne Martin ’24 has such aspirations in abundance and is already proving that he’s willing to see them through. 

In recognition of his work and potential, the Miami native was named a Truman Scholar, a national honor that acknowledges academic success and leadership accomplishments, as well as the likelihood of pursuing a career in public service. He becomes only the second Hamilton student to receive the award; the first was Frederick Nelson ’80.

Each Truman Scholar receives funding for graduate studies, leadership training, career counseling, and special internship and fellowship opportunities within the federal government. A public policy major who spent last spring studying abroad at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Martin intends to pursue degrees at Harvard Law School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“I feel like I was always public service oriented,” says Martin, who came to Hamilton as a Posse Foundation scholar. “Because we lived in wretched conditions, it was not a choice whether to pursue public service — it was that public service was the only way to save the lives of our people.”

During his senior year of high school, Martin became involved with local education when his school board denied students the right to join climate protests during a day school was in session. “I wondered, ‘What can we do to make sure there is never another moment when students go to a board that exists because of them and are met with the kind of apathy we saw that day?’” he says.

As it happened, the climate protests coincided with school board elections. With three seats up for grabs and no incumbents running, Martin saw the opportunity to get students involved. He began organizing and facilitating student-led discussion forums — an effort that eventually led to him founding the Youth Education Coalition, Miami — that resulted in each one of the candidates making on-the-record promises that they would stand by increased student power on the board.

On the back of this success, Martin became involved with an organization called Men4Choice, which encourages informed male activism in support of reproductive rights. “It was a time when I was thinking about this issue but realizing that I hadn’t done much about it despite how much I cared,” he recalls.

Martin’s involvement with Men4Choice is ongoing; this past summer he served as a youth organizing coordinator in Washington, D.C. He also continues his work as community outreach coordinator with the Miami Dade Urban Debate League, where he mentors high-schoolers in debate, college readiness, and community organizing.

State of FloridaThough his studies and work have taken him far from Florida, Martin remains focused on the area where he began his passion for public service, the city he calls home. “I think Miami is ground zero for what the future of our country looks like,” he says, citing the threat of climate change alongside social, political, and technological upheaval. While interning with the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, he also realized that collaboration between the public and private sectors is “at an all-time high” in the city. Officials are largely concerned with bringing in the right people to answer questions such as “How do we solve problems of environmental catastrophe in a way that provides economic opportunities for people in our community?” Martin says.

Also of concern to Martin are the displacement and migration of Miami’s Black residents, a pattern that struck him during a recent trip home for his uncle’s funeral. “I was at my family’s church home, New Birth Baptist Church, and I looked into the crowd and realized that 25% of my family doesn’t live in Miami anymore,” he explains.

Awareness of this development brought with it the recognition of historical continuity. “This is not the first time this has happened,” Martin says, “but these are unique circumstances, and the simultaneous novelty and familiarity help create a mechanism to activate people.” This mechanism is something Martin calls “archival agency,” the force by which people understand that they’ve been displaced before and learn what kind of political/economic power is lost and gained in those moments.

For Black folks who are descendants of slaves, we have lost history time and again. And because political power is grounded in having history and being in a geographical place for a certain period of time, we have often lost both our power and our place.

Dewayne Martin ’24 Dewayne Martin ’24

These personal and historical aspects are very important to Martin, and he is devoting this year to a Senior Fellowship project that involves fostering archival agency within his family. His goal is to trace his family back to its last moment of displacement — Ormond Beach, Fla. In the early 20th century, Martin explains, Ormond Beach was a “testing ground, in the same way that Miami is currently becoming.” With that context as a backdrop, he plans to uncover what led to his ancestors being displaced from the area before mapping their particular stories onto what he calls “the meta-history of Black migration at that moment.”

Encouraging archival agency is also a means of combating historical erasure. “For Black folks who are descendants of slaves, we have lost history time and again,” Martin says. “And because political power is grounded in having history and being in a geographical place for a certain period of time, we have often lost both our power and our place.”

This, too, is where the right kind of education is crucial. “It’s less about re-educating people and more about showing them that these stories already exist and already embody how you connect the narratives of your life,” he adds.

For his project, Martin hopes to conduct interviews with family members in front of the house built by his great-grandfather when his family first moved to Miami from Ormond Beach. “This way, it will be grounded in place, helping [family members] to connect their lives to the largest story of our family’s history,” Martin says.

Locating oneself in history can be a powerful tool for activism, one that can produce a willingness in people who oftentimes are not passive politically, but tired politically, Martin says. Illustrating continuity and a longstanding lack of progress can provide just the impetus needed to reanimate political agency that may otherwise lie dormant.

Already, Martin has witnessed the efficacy of this strategy firsthand. Gathered with loved ones after a funeral, he recalled the experience of telling their family history to a captivated audience. “They told the kids to be quiet and listen, and [they] soon were motivated to ask: what should we do next?” he says. “That moment showed me the power of history and connecting people to their history, especially in my community.”

At Hamilton, Martin has been involved with Student Assembly since his first year and is currently a staff writer for The Spectator. Although he stays busy in college, it has been difficult to disengage from events back home. In the spring of 2021, the Miami-Dade County superintendent resigned, leading to a rushed nomination process in which Martin wanted to ensure student participation. From 1,400 miles away in Clinton, N.Y., he facilitated a student sit-in at the next hearing in order to show student presence.

Supplementing this perpetual focus on hometown politics is a strong commitment to classroom learning. In fact, Martin emphasizes the value of instructors who are willing to shape a curriculum in a way that contributes to practical work, naming Joel Winkelman in government, Doug Ambrose in history, Todd Franklin in philosophy, and former chaplain Jeff McArn as influential mentors. “All of these people have played a critical role in allowing that connection between practical work and the theory that often only comes at universities,” he says.

Now in his final year at Hamilton, Martin is eager to engage with the campus community — especially after being abroad during his junior year. “For me, the critical thing I will be asking folks is: how do you see your future, your career and impact, in a world ridden with climate urgency?” he says. “For our generation, it’s less a question of what you want to do with your future as it is how we can contribute to solving this common human problem.”

Published in Fall 2023 Hamilton Magazine

Setting an Example of Public Service

Fred Nelson ’80
Hamilton’s first Truman Scholar

Frederick Nelson ’80 fulfilled the mission of the Truman Scholarship Foundation by pursuing a varied and distinguished career in public service. A history major and president of the Root-Jessup Public Affairs Council while on College Hill, he was named Hamilton’s first Truman Fellow in 1978. In 1980, he graduated as valedictorian of his class.

Like his father, the late Judge David Nelson ’54, Fred Nelson went on to graduate with honors from Harvard Law School where he earned the award for best oral advocate, as his team won the Ames Moot Court competition, and served as executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Nelson split his career primarily between his home state of Ohio and Washington, D.C. After a stint as majority counsel with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on criminal law, he became perhaps the youngest person to hold the post of deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice (Office of Legal Policy) during the Reagan administration. He also served as associate White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush.

In the early 1990s shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Nelson became a legal specialist for the American Bar Association’s Central and East European Law Initiative. He worked on legal reform issues with the office of the Counsel to the President of Ukraine in Kiev and with the Committee on Legislation of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow. Before and after his White House stint, he practiced civil litigation with the Cincinnati law firm of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister.

When Nelson decided to return home permanently, he accepted a post as the first chief of staff and legal counsel to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati). Other roles included running a public policy development consulting firm aimed at addressing complex issues from differing ideological perspectives and appearing as a regular panelist on the ABC affiliate’s public affairs TV roundtable Hotseat.

Nelson won election as a Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court judge and from 2003 to 2009 handled felony cases ranging from murder allegations to white collar crime charges and also complex civil cases including constitutional law disputes, malpractice and personal injury claims, and commercial contract matters. He later became senior adviser and director of major litigation for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office before Governor Mike DeWine appointed him judge of the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals; his term concluded in 2021, and he continued service thereafter as a visiting judge by appointment through the Ohio Supreme Court.

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