Lead Organizer, Topeka JUMP in Topeka, Kansas

As a first-generation college student, Shanae’ set out to obtain a law degree. She came from humble beginnings and grew up hearing her parents encourage her to go into a prestigious field that would help her avoid poverty. While studying sociology at Florida State, Shanae’ reflected often on the challenges she endured living in a single parent home. She can remember having gone to four different elementary schools, a result of the need to move every year after the apartment complex raised her mom’s rent. She watched her single mom provide for two children by working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Even though she wanted desperately to follow her parents’ directions, she was compelled to use her career to live out very strong values that come from struggling in her upbringing: fairness and opportunity. Children deserve an opportunity to succeed in school and life, which is tied to having a stable home. Hardworking people should be able to afford housing and still have enough money for groceries and other basic necessities.

It did not take long for her to decide that while practicing law is a great career, it was not the right fit for her. The opportunity to challenge systems that allow low-income families to fall through the cracks was what initially drew her to community organizing. She began her organizing career in the DART Network as an Associate Organizer with the FAITH Organization in Daytona Beach, Florida. While in Daytona, organized a successful campaign to press Halifax Hospital to hire a full-time physician so that people without health insurance could have access to primary care services. Now, she is the Lead Organizer of the Topeka JUMP organization in Shawnee County, KS where she is fighting for more safe and affordable housing for 9,000 families who are forced to spend more than they can afford for rent.