Jamal Holtz will be the second-ever Black president of the University of Rochester's Student Association. (Courtesy photo)
Jamal Holtz will be the second-ever Black president of the University of Rochester's Student Association. (Courtesy photo)

One of Ward 8’s politically minded young people has been elected president of the student body at a prominent New York university.

On April 14, Jamal Holtz was chosen to lead the student association at the University of Rochester, along with his vice presidential candidate, Anne Marie Cortes.

Holtz, took the oath of office days later, becoming the first Black president of the student government association in two decades.

“Public service has been my passion,” he said. “I want to serve the students effectively as their president and be a strong advocate on their behalf.”

Rochester, which has 5,600 undergraduates and 4,600 graduate students, has received international recognition for its Eastman School of Music, considered among the finest in the world. The university also is known for being a leader in the field of optics.

Data USA says that 4.76 percent of students are African American.

Holtz, who will be a senior in the fall, said Rochester allows students to create their own majors and he studies social justice and public policy.

He came to Rochester with the assistance of the Posse Foundation, a national New York City-based nonprofit in that identifies, recruits and trains student leaders from high schools to attend leading universities that are Ivy League or close to that distinction to pursue excellence on their campuses.

Holtz graduated from the Friendship Public Charter School-Collegiate Academy. As his campus’s leader, he said has ambitious plans for his one-year term.

“I want to increase student engagement and do that with initiatives that are student-driven,” he said. “I will work to see that we have a more inclusive campus that champions diversity, equity and justice. I would also like to improve the campus culture so that every student feels comfortable getting involved.”

At many colleges and universities, the president of the student body gets benefits such as free tuition, books, fees and housing, but that’s not the case at Rochester.

“I realize that I get no financial aid being the president,” Holtz said even though he acknowledges that he gets an office account. “I am a public servant with a deep passion to serve.”

Holtz said his passion to serve came from his involvement with the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute. He got involved with the program at 16 years old.

“When I was 16, I wanted to be a FBI agent,” he said. “I wanted to know how to get into that realm and someone recommended the leadership institute to me.”

The Barry institute, founded in 1979, has trained scores of young people on leadership and how to get involved in the political process. Prominent alumni include political activist Kemry Hughes, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), advisory neighborhood commissioner Tyrell Holcomb and D.C. State Board of Education member Markus Batchelor.

Holtz said the institute staff has “guided me through high school and have helped me connect the dots” as far as school and career planning. He said he keeps in constant contact with Batchelor and follows his advice on school and life issues.

Batchelor, Hughes and Phillip Walker, mentors of Holtz since his time in the Barry institute, traveled to Rochester to observe his April 21 swearing-in ceremony.

Holtz, who has interned with the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services, said he will return to the District after graduation and “pursue something in public service as a career.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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