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#SPA80for80: Jonelle Williams, SPA/BA ’09

Jonelle Williams, SPA/BA 09

When FDR founded the School of Public Affairs in 1934, he envisioned great opportunities for future students – for initiative, for constructive thinking, and for practical idealism. SPA alumnus Jonelle Williams epitomizes those ideals.

Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Williams and his parents fled the country due to a civil war. After stops in several other countries his family ultimately sought refuge in Baltimore, MD, where Williams completed middle and high school.

Williams applied to only one school – American University's School of Public Affairs. He earned several awards during his academic career, including the Black Law Enforcement Executives Scholarship Award and the GEICO Achievement Scholarship Award.

A racial profiling incident in 2006 ignited Williams' passion to dig into the issue through an independent study course at SPA. His research entered the national debate after he presented it to industry leaders at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

Today, Williams is intent on making the world a brighter place through reasoned social change. He works to improve the lives and communities of those in his home country, serving as director of strategic planning at Sierra Leone Policy Watch Think Tank, which aims to improve policy decisions in Sierra Leone. Current projects include a bill to advocate for voting rights for Sierra Leoneans living abroad, and a comprehensive education policy that will engage the country's unemployed youth. He encourages people not to complain about social issues, but to develop solutions that really work and deliver them to communities.

In addition to his role as vice chair of the AU Black Alumni Alliance, Williams serves on the AU Young Alumni Board. He was a recipient of the 2013 AU Alumni Rising Star Award and was named this year to African Luxury Magazine's "30 Under 30 Sierra Leoneans to Follow."


"I enjoyed interacting with my SPA professors who provided candid and practical advice, steering me in my career. After my independent study on racial profiling and law enforcement reforms, my professors helped provide different networking opportunities to present my research. I went on to present at the Academy of Criminal Justices Sciences Conference, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Berkeley (California) Police Review Commission."