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Campus Leader, Activist Wins Truman Scholarship

Northwestern junior Qiddist Hammerly readies for a career in public service

  • Advocate for racial, social, environmental and economic justice
  • Highly competitive scholarship supports college juniors committed to public service
  • Aims to ‘drastically reduce the number of youth in the juvenile justice system’
  • ‘I want to create a more equitable system of education and criminal justice’
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University junior Qiddist Miriam Hammerly has received the highly competitive Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 award that supports graduate education for outstanding students who plan to pursue careers in public service.

Hammerly, an activist, campus leader and self-described “advocate for racial, social, environmental and economic justice,” plans to study racial disparities in education and youth incarceration.

“I want to create a more equitable system of education and criminal justice for youth across America and drastically reduce the number of youth who end up in the juvenile justice system,” she wrote in her application.

Already a veteran community organizer, with experience teaching and working in the juvenile justice system, Hammerly has spent the last three years as a teacher’s aide, working with first graders in an Evanston elementary school. 

She also conducts research, writes articles on social justice issues related to education policy and leads African-American social action and a capella groups. She is currently a Presidential Fellow with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, which recognizes national leaders with a strong interest in public policy.

“Qiddist is the very best that Northwestern can produce,” said Dan Lewis, the director of Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement. “She’s bright, energetic and committed to an engaged life of scholarship and service. I couldn’t be happier for her.”

A native of Portland, Oregon, Hammerly plans to teach for a few years after she has graduated from Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. She will likely then use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in education and also hopes to get a master’s degree in public policy and possibly a law degree.

Hammerly said she appreciates both the networking opportunities that come with the award and the financial support. One of her heroes is civil rights lawyer, legal scholar and former Truman scholarship winner Michelle Alexander, who wrote the book, “The New Jim Crow.”

“Being put in that network, with people I hope to collaborate with in the future, is really exciting,” she said. “For me, the Truman is an open door to a lot of other opportunities and connections.”

A natural leader, Hammerly is the outgoing vice coordinator for external relations for Northwestern’s Black Student Alliance, where she worked to implement a mentoring program during her sophomore year.  

This year, she helped bring to campus Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, for an event that attracted more than 600 people. Martin, a 17-year-old African-American high school student, was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, sparking protests around the country.

“Leadership is constantly finding balance: between listening and talking, leading and developing leadership in others, and between sharing my own opinion and representing those of my organization,” Hammerly said.

For the last several years, Hammerly has participated in Northwestern’s Arts and Music for Education in Detention Centers (AMPED), a weekend music mentorship program that uses GarageBand software and connects Northwestern students with incarcerated young men at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to be involved with youth in the criminal justice system because it can make a difference in their understanding of who they are and what they can achieve,” she said.

Friends, colleagues and mentors describe Hammerly as poised, articulate and insatiably curious. “Qiddist is very thoughtful; she will not voice her opinion on something until she has given it great thought and studied it from every angle possible,” said Northwestern alumnus Patrick Keenan-Devlin, deputy director of The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy. “She does not like to speak from an uninformed position.  What’s extremely impressive is that she’s able to quickly discern what she sees and hears. She asks questions and processes accordingly.”

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.

Annually, candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. In 2015, there were 688 candidates for the award nominated by 297 colleges and universities.

Fifty-eight new Truman Scholars were selected in 2015. They will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri on Sunday, May 24, 2015. 

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