Abel Y. Berhan

Hometown – Seattle, WA
Undergrad – Harvard College

For Abel, advocacy has been more than just a value: advocacy has been ingrained into his life. As the son of Ethiopian refugees, navigating through his culture and two identities has felt compromising and challenging at times. His Ethiopian Orthodox faith has provided him with a loving community where he works to grow, understand, and serve others.  As the middle child of five, Abel held a great amount of responsibilities. His younger brother Yonathan was born with autism and with their closeness in age, Abel empathized with the barriers Yonathan faced. At school, Abel found himself acting as the mediator between Yonathan and his teachers. He always expressed Yonathan’s needs to ensure his education was not impeded. These experiences with Yonathan established Abel’s foundation for advocacy and empathy, and also offered new lenses in the way he viewed education disparities and its intersection with mental illnesses.

A vital aspect of Abel’s advocacy is empowering the voices of students of color and pushing towards equitable education for marginalized communities. As the student government president, he established the first Race & Equity committee at his high school and led a walkout of 700+ students in response to a school board decision that ignored student voice.

Spoken word has also allowed him to engage in advocacy. He first utilized spoken word to understand his older brother’s schizophrenia. Over time though, his spoken word evolved by shedding light on other issues disproportionately affecting his community, such as mass incarceration. He then became a YouthSpeaks intern, where he created spaces for youth to utilize spoken word as a tool to fight different forms of oppression.

Abel took part in the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) Program at Princeton University for 7-weeks to grow his leadership and broaden his perspective. He collaborated with a LEDA scholar to organize the Nolawi Scholarship— an organization that funds Ethiopian students from a low socioeconomic background to attend private high schools in Ethiopia. Abel enjoys entrepreneurship and working with others to create solutions.

Abel seeks to open doors for underrepresented students through various platforms; he published an article with the Seattle Times that highlighted racial disparities in university business schools, and the need to invest in non-profit organizations. He continues to build his advocacy and policy influence on the national level. He was a part of American Civil Liberties Union’s Summer Advocacy Institute, and proposed policy regarding mass incarceration to former U.S. Senator Al Franken.

Abel plans to attend Harvard College and study government, specifically education and poverty policy. During his time at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., Abel was moved by the lack of diversity in those creating policy. He believes that in order for our government to create equitable legislation, there’s a need for policymakers to emerge from underserved communities. In order for Abel to have a career in office, he understands that his service and commitment to advocacy must start now within his community, and aspires to create policy that is inclusive of his community.