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CBPP's State Policy Fellowship: A First-Person Account

January 12, 2017 at 1:45 PM
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CBPP

Tazra Mitchell is a Policy Analyst with the Center’s Family Income Support team. Before joining CBPP, she worked in Raleigh at the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center as a part of the Center’s State Policy Fellowship — a program designed to expand the diversity of voices that speak with authority in state policy debates across the country.

Here, we talk with Tazra about her experience as a Fellow.

What interested you about the State Policy Fellowship?

In graduate school, I worked with legislators who wrote North Carolina’s budget as the nation was dealing with the Great Recession. I quickly learned how fiscal and economic policies affect families struggling to afford the basics. That experience, and my formal training, taught me that we won’t move the needle on eliminating poverty and racial disparities without smart, equitable, and targeted fiscal policies, particularly at the state level. I saw the Fellowship as an opportunity to build a career dedicated to using research, engagement, and my voice to advocate for meaningful policy change that will improve the lives of low-income people and expand opportunity.

Can you explain briefly the kinds of work you did as a Fellow?

My work covered a broad range of topics affecting North Carolinians, from analysis of how state budget and tax cut proposals would stifle opportunity to why local transit initiatives would boost equity and access to jobs for low-income workers. I also built ties with local communities through listening sessions and presentations, briefed lawmakers, spoke to the media, and studied message framing to create compelling and persuasive research products.

What did you learn as a Fellow?

The Fellowship is dynamic. Not only did I hone my analytical skills, but I learned how to develop and coordinate multiple strategies — research, outreach, and strategic communications — in a team environment. If you want your analysis to end up in the hands of diverse audiences and decision makers, rather than collect dust on a shelf, it’s essential to use a multi-strategy approach.

My time as a Fellow in North Carolina also taught me that sometimes the struggle is the victory. There will be stretches of time when policy “wins” are rare, such as when lawmakers passed a series of policies that were detrimental to low-income folks. I found opportunity and empowerment in those moments, and I discovered that timely and accessible analysis (paired with advocacy) is a key path to raising society’s consciousness, which in the end is necessary for transformative policy change.

What would you say to potential Policy Fellows who are thinking about applying?

Above all else, it opens doors for you to do work aimed at giving everyone a shot to get ahead. If you want to embark on a career that helps ensure that the most vulnerable folks in our society get a fair shake, the Fellowship might be right for you. You’ll have the chance to work on a range of policy topics and shape the public debate in your state.

We are accepting applications for the State Policy Fellowship until January 29.