Alumni Profile: Kyra Stephenson-Valley (CAS ’16, ’17)
November 15, 2020
At NYU, Kyra Stephenson-Valley (CAS ’16, ’17) forged her own path to become the first International Relations masters student to graduate with a concentration in NYU’s top-ranked international law program. That path took her to Washington D.C. where she works as a policy advisor with a seat at the table for conversations on federal civil rights policies.
Read about Stephenson-Valley’s work at the National Action Network and her involvement in the 2020 March on Washington, a historical event that both commemorated the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and charted how much further the nation must go in the struggle for equality.
What is the National Action Network and what is your role there?
I serve as a policy advisor at National Action Network, one of our nation's leading civil rights organizations working in the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King to promote a modern civil rights agenda. I have advised members of Congress, presidential candidates, and the current White House administration on more inclusive policies and I am responsible for advancing National Action Network’s legislative agenda on the national scale. I have also delivered expert testimony before the New York City Council and shared our perspective with the Wall Street Journal and Politico.
What was your role in planning the 2020 March on Washington?
I led national partnerships for the 57th commemoration of the March on Washington and managed relationships with groups who share our progressive goals like labor unions and other nonprofits. I worked to build consensus around the policy demands for the march. In addition to being personally invited by Reverend Sharpton to speak at the March on Washington, I set and managed the entire six-hour program to ensure one that was truly reflective of the moment we were in.
It was an honor to take part in that moment in history. In the midst of a pandemic, more than 200,000 people joined us in our call for justice. We came together to lift up the families who have lost loved ones to police violence and amplify the call for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill. We also called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which includes policies NAN has supported for years, but was recently renamed to honor the late Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis not only spoke at NYU's Commencement the year I graduated, but also spoke at the 1963 March on Washington that the Commitment March commemorated. Another important part of the march was honoring the history of the 1963 March on Washington and reflecting on what we must do to continue to fulfill Dr. King's dream.
What was your experience like at NYU?
My experience at NYU was transformative. I don't think I'd be the activist I am today without it. The environment NYU fosters, both intentionally and unintentionally, breeds activism. At NYU I was able to build meaningful interpersonal relationships with faculty mentors and peers on campus. I also learned how to identify gaps in services to students who look like me, with backgrounds like mine, and tapped into the resources NYU intentionally provided to advocate for myself and my community.
What made you decide to pursue a second degree at NYU?
I loved New York and knew I wanted to do more research on Caribbean integration. NYU has one of the leading International Relations programs in the nation and gave me the flexibility to do coursework at Columbia's SIPA as part of my degree requirements. I became the first person to graduate with an NYU's Master's in International Relations with a concentration in International Law, which was really cool. And of course, all of the added benefits that come along with being a BA-MA student made it the easiest decision ever. I'm super grateful to have done it.
Do you have any advice for recent NYU graduates who want to pursue a career in policy?
I would advise them to continue to expand their networks and not be afraid to offer support wherever you can. I started my career at National Action Network as a volunteer. I helped out as a floater with the DC Bureau's Action and Authority reception during the Congressional Black Caucus' Annual Legislative Conference and then continued to assist the Bureau with planning their legislative and policy conference.
I'm also happy to chat with any recent grads looking for advice!
Any final thoughts?
Who professors are and what they choose to teach matters. I am forever grateful to my thesis advisor, Professor John Fousek, for all of the invaluable life lessons he imparted to us. I carry them with me every day in my career. I am also indebted to Professor Marie Cruz Soto who created an incredibly rigorous and rewarding syllabus.