Undergrad Fighting for the Rights of Others
Jaira Burke is happiest and most at peace when she is lobbying, blogging and volunteering on behalf of human rights and social and economic justice. The International Economics and Modern Languages major says she spends her every waking moment fighting for the rights of others.
“During my freshman year at Georgia State I began volunteering for Safe House Outreach,” says Burke. Safe House is an urban outreach program committed to affecting real change in the lives of those in the margins of society by providing a hand up, not just a handout.
“I had many powerful experiences talking to the homeless and others who have benefitted from Safe House. It caused me to have an epiphany about what I wanted to do in life. I realized that economic empowerment is the foundation that social justice stems from. In order to eradicate many of the issues that plague our communities, it is absolutely paramount that economic justice is achieved.”
Yet Burke’s initial appreciation for human rights and economic empowerment did not begin at Georgia State; it began at home. “Community service is a big part of my family,” says Burke. “My grandfather delivered food to local families in need. My parents adopted families for the holidays, where they would buy food and clothing for them. In high school, I was vice president for my class, and I would organize programming for us to participate in such activities as the March of Dimes Walkathon and tutoring for elementary school children.”
Burke’s economics and international interests also began in high school. “I took AP Economics in high school, and it was one of my favorite classes,” says Burke, who graduated from Miller Grove High School in DeKalb County. “I appreciated the theoretical approach to economics. I also have been taking Spanish since I was in the seventh grade. I always knew I wanted to work internationally and that it was important to be fluent in another language.”
Burke says she always wanted to attend Georgia State: “GSU is convenient, and it has the geographical monopoly on being in the center of everything. I enjoy the campus. I can walk to my internship from my apartment or from my classes.”
And being in the center of everything has benefitted Burke in maximizing her opportunities and options to serve. She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to her community involvement. Burke volunteers with Project Open Hand and delivers meals at least once a month. She also supports labor rights with Fight for 15, a national campaign to raise the minimum wage, and is scheduled to meet with the Fulton County Wage Board to discuss this issue.
Burke also volunteers with the Georgia Close Up, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to civically engage middle and high school students about policy and help them understand that policy impacts every aspect of our lives.
Burke is a passionate advocate for women and minority rights, especially the gender pay gap. “Once people have liquid assets, they are in a better financial position,” says Burke. “There is no reason for families to be generationally impoverished.”
A blogger for the Citizens for Global Solutions, Burke says working as a freelance journalist provides her with another forum to advocate for causes. She is also a grassroots lobbyist for the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and is a member of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, where she serves on the Business Retention and Expansion, Public Policy, and Professional Development committees.
What’s next for Burke after she graduates from Georgia State? The Peace Corps. Burke is considering Georgia State’s Peace Corps Masters International degree program, a joint partnership between the Peace Corps and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, or she may just go straight to the Peace Corps to serve. She also plans to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs and a Juris Doctor to practice international law.
All in all, Burke plans to pursue her dream of working internationally to continue her quest to advocate for the human rights and economic empowerment of those abroad.