Progressively Passionate

A look into the the incredible life, works and story of Pramila Jayapal.

“Can you keep your values with whatever you do?” Indian American U.S congresswoman and JIS graduate, Pramila Jayapal posed this question, challenging the JIS  community last April. Jayapal’s incredible ideas, works, and achievements have answered this question of consistent morality. From moving to the United States on her own, to founding a non-profit organization, to being elected the first Indian-American congresswoman, her values never wavered, and her efforts never fail to benefit the previously overlooked.

Ms. Jayapal grew up internationaly, like many in our JIS community. After graduating from JIS at the impressivly unusual age of 16, she attended Georgetown university for a degree in English literature, noting that “[the] reading and writing skills [acquired during her time in university] have been one of the most important things in my job.” Following her education Jayapal proceeded to dabble in the world of investment banking before finding her true passion in the world of philanthropy.

In 1995 Jayapal established a fellowship with a healthcare nonprofit, the Institute of Current World Affairs. During her time with the Institute, Jayapal worked and lived with women in rural Indian villages. She described the experience as “transformative, absolutely transformative,” noting her work with the women in the villages, their reproductive health. Her experience allowed her to reconnect with her culture as well as make a direct difference in the lives of the underprivlliaged – a constant seen through out the rest of Pramila’s career.

Following her return to the United States she was met with a life-changing, world-changing event – 9/11. The day itself brought on countless tragedies, but Pramila focused on the discrimination that ensued as a result. Following the events of 9/11, hate crimes, especially those against Muslims and imegrants, grew by a shocking 675% compared to the year before.

Pramilia took matters into her own hands, starting a nonprofit organization, One America. According to their website thier mission to “organize immigrant and refugee leaders and our allies to build power in our communities and run campaigns to create a just immigration system, inclusive education for all, and a truly representative democracy.” Folloing the events of 9/11 Jayapal saw a problem that no one was adressing and in it’s place founded an enviroment in which change could be made. Her nonprofit ultimatly became one of the most prominent in Washington state and has touched countless lives.

Pramila understood the change she was destined to make but was unsure of the path that would take her there. “I never wanted to be an elected official.” However, after 15 years of successful work in the philanthropic field, she had a thirst for change that could only be quenched through politics. “Well, why not me? Why don’t I go in there and see if I can make a difference.” And so she ran for office and became the first Indian American representative on Washington state senate in 2015, and then the frist Indian American congresswoman two years later.

As part of her job as Congresswoman, Jayapal is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is creating legislation fighting for leftist improvments to economy, climate, and health care.

So, as a JIS alumna and US congresswoman Pramila Jayapal challenges us to “keep [our] values with whatever [we] do?” She has proven the possiblity behind her question. The congresswomen has left an impact on countless individuals at every stage in her career. And so stay true to your values because you too might make an impact comparable to Pramila Jayapal.