Durham-based Democracy NC, a nonpartisan, statewide organization that works to ensure voting access for everyone—particularly people of color and low-income residents who have been targets of the GOP’s voter suppression tactics—is the recipient of a $10,000 award from a young student athlete, N.C. Central University’s Jessie Malit. 

Jessie Malit. Photo courtesy of NCCU. 

Malit, a senior defensive end for the Eagles, is one of 22 college football players across the country to earn distinguished recognition as a member of the 2021 Allstate AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team®, which celebrates “his accomplishments on the field, in the classroom, and in the community,” according to a Democracy NC press release.

Malit is vice president of NCCU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and is a member of the NCCU Football Leadership Council, and was chosen as the university’s representative for the national Campus Compact’s Newman Civic Fellowship. He says he chose Democracy NC after learning about the organization from his cousin. He researched the nonprofit and liked what he saw.

“I’m interested in civic engagement and voting rights,” Malit said in the release. “You can really see changes if you get people active. Democracy North Carolina does that.”

Democracy NC officials say that Malit’s largesse will support their ongoing “work to protect democracy and promote citizen ownership of the government.”

The nonprofit also noted that part of its mission to help state residents realize “meaningful pro-democracy policies, the organization engages in a variety of activities, including the Democracy Summer Program, an internship program for college-age students.”

Malit described being able to give as a fulfilling feeling. 

“Creating relationships and building bonds with other people is what I enjoy most about doing community service,” he said. He also thanked his NCCU professors who have guided him throughout his collegiate career. “It’s important because you have to understand there are less fortunate people out there.”

Voting rights has been at the forefront of Malit’s work with the historically Black college’s student community. Last year, he spearheaded the NCCU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s Educated Actions Generate Lifelong Empowerment & Success (E.A.G.L.E.S) Vote initiative.

The E.A.G.L.E.S. initiative included a campus-wide March to the Polls event, where 92 percent of the university’s student-athletes, including 100 percent of the football team, cast ballots, according to the Democracy NC release.

“Jessie Malit is a prime example of what our state and country need today: active, engaged young people that believe in and fight for our democracy,” Adrienne Kelly,  the interim Co-Executive Director of Democracy NC, said in the release. “We are very grateful to him for recognizing the work that Democracy NC does and for supporting us through selection for this grant.”

The 22-year-old student leader is on track to graduate in December with a 3.3 grade point average. After graduation, Malit is planning to attend graduate school and wants to become a judge.

Malit says that he would also like to work with middle school-aged children and encourage them to engage in community service. He credits his Kenyan mother with instilling in him the importance of giving back to the community at an early age.

“You have to start at the root level. When I was 13 or 14, I knew nothing about voting or civic engagement,” Malit said in the release. “When I was younger, we did a lot of community service. I started to understand [at a young age] the meaning behind it and respect who I was doing it for.”

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Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.