Alumni Feature: Akari Hernandez
By Gretchen Kent
Akari Hernandez of Charlottesville High School, Virginia has been steadily honing his public administration skills since graduating from Policy Pathways’ 2020 Summer Academy for Policy Leadership and Public Service Online (SAO). Entering his junior year in the fall, he already has the momentum from several experiences to propel him into a successful University program and career in a policy-related field.
“What I learned from Policy Pathways has grown in a way that I can see in my future,” he said. “Since Policy Pathways, and in the last year, I’ve had the policy mindset to look at [issues and determine] ‘this is exactly where things need to change.’”
His session of the Summer Academy Online kicked off when the nation was in the throes of civil unrest and injustices captured on camera stirred calls for systemic changes in our society, all while frustratingly confined by stay-at-home orders. Most gripping for Hernandez was how “eye-opening [it was] in a time where change felt inaccessible. It felt like the world was happening around us and everyone was just hoping for the best, but Policy Pathways was showing us that policy was within our reach; there were specific things that we could push against.”
Over the course of the Academy’s two rigorous weeks of learning about and analyzing policy formation, developing critical thinking and writing skills, and working with distinguished Capstone site representatives, students are afforded an insider’s look at this kind of calling. Hernandez lauds how “Policy Pathways really helped look directly at what’s in place and where we can change that.”
Especially in the way of real-world application, he was most struck by the implications of the Program’s incorporation of local policy leaders as Capstone partners. “Having the credibility right there and being tied into the systems that were currently operating gave it a level of authenticity that was tied with reality. You’re working with people, you’re right there looking at the same things that everyone else in the state is looking at. It’s local.” Hernandez and three others were placed in the Office of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine Capstone site last summer and presented at the session’s closing ceremony on Reimagining Policing. Upon completion of the program, he was later recognized for his academic and extracurricular achievements with the Policy Pathways Youth Public Service Award 2020.
This past semester of school, he called on his experience in policy in penning a prodigious research paper on the Landback Movement, which is working on restoring indigenous sovereignty in America. “The general inspiration for all the research I’m doing for school and what I will be doing over the summer are definitely topics of interest that Policy Pathways opened for me.”
Hernandez attended the School of the New York Times Summer Academy Online in June of this year, which ran a similar curriculum to Policy Pathways’, but with a deeper focus on activism. His final project in the Public Policy and Activism course was on demilitarizing the police. “We need a policy with activism to lead us [to an end goal], and Policy Pathways was the education towards a policy that I needed,” he said. “Activism is a personal thing. You don’t necessarily need education on [going out there and advocating to do it], but I think [having that policy background] is definitely what I needed personally to see it as an accessible future.” Hernandez fueled his ambitions once more this summer as an AMP Global Scholar, attending the two-week program earlier this month both virtually and in Washington, D.C. on international issues and youth leadership. The subject matter has included oppression and systems of power and speakers hailing from RAICES Texas and Climate Nexus. His group’s final project revolved around indigenous-led resistance to multinational oil pipelines via awareness and action.
With a few years yet to decide on a college to attend, Hernandez is keeping his prospects open. “I’m not [certain policy] is where my future lies, but I can say with pretty strong confidence that this is where my passion is, and if I could sustain that in a field where I’m looking at policy a lot and making a change somewhere policy-related, that could be really huge for me.”
We will surely be following Hernandez’s journey and impending accomplishments with pride and excitement; he is only just beginning, after all. “Policy Pathways showed me toward a future,” he asserted. “It doesn’t mean that future has to be here now, but it is opening up the world for me.”