Sophomore Jazer Willis ’22 was well on his way to being a rock-star student before he ever enrolled at Albright College. In high school, the Philadelphia native served as the city’s NAACP Youth Council branch president and became an international slam poet with the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement. And once on campus, he wasted no time adding to his résumé.
As a first-year student looking for opportunities to get involved on campus and meet new people, Willis discovered the Domino Players, Albright’s student-faculty theatre troupe. Having never acted before, it was a big step for him to join the group.
“I’m used to the stage because I’m a poet, but acting was a totally different level for me,” Willis said.
Cast as Joseph Asagai in the Domino Players’ production of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun,” Willis not only uncovered a new talent in himself, he connected with new friendships and a new sense of accomplishment.
It’s an outcome common in collegiate theatre productions, but the Domino Players took the experience to new heights during Willis’ freshman year — performing in eight Kennedy Center American College Theater regional festivals and earning nine national Kennedy Center awards, including most outstanding production of a play.
Willis’ success as a first-year student was recognized with The Julia Award, an annual award presented by the college to one senior and one freshman who exhibit “intellectual adventurousness, creativity and cheerful courage in the face of adversity.”
Pursuing a Passion
These traits are evident in his academic pursuits as well. The aspiring minister chose to major in political science and minor in religious studies because his hometown pastor and mentor, the Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, once advised him that: “The most effective way to preach is with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.”
“To major in political science and effectively see how the world works will help me preach better,” Willis said. Moreover, the combination allows him to explore the intersections between his professional aspirations and his dedication to pro-black activism.
It is this ability to connect seemingly disparate passions — and people — that Willis admires most about Albright.
“I believe Albright has instilled within me a need for connecting with others and not being afraid to cross boundaries,” Willis said. “Whether it be inside the classroom or outside, it is absolutely essential to recognize the worth of another person and take the opportunity to learn from one another.”
It is with this understanding that Willis embarks on his life pursuits. In his sophomore year, those pursuits included being named to Forbes “30 Under 30” scholar list, an honor that brought him to Detroit, Mich., in October for the 2019 national summit of young change makers.
Couple Willis’ ambition and Albright experiences with a deep devotion to his faith and youth empowerment — particularly among other young black men — and you have the recipe for a dynamic religious leader poised to make positive change in the communities he serves.