Though graduation is next spring for community and international development major Skyler Nash, he is already at work as a champion for justice. Here, Nash (left), vice chair of Burlington's special police committee, speaks before a state Senate committee in April 2019. (Photo: Glenn Russell)
THOMAS JAMES WEAVER
December 9, 2020
Skyler Nash came to UVM in 2017 with his focus on basketball, determined to help the Catamounts pile up victories and develop his potential for a chance at a pro career. Hitting his first collegiate shot, a three-pointer against perennial power Kentucky at Rupp Arena, was an auspicious start on that road. But just nine games into the season, he would suffer a season-ending ACL injury. It was the onset of a cruel cycle of rehab and reinjury that would lead to the end of his playing days during the 2019-20 season, though he has remained part of Coach John Becker’s program, a supportive teammate at practices and on the bench at home games.
A cancer survivor from his high school years, Nash knows adversity and changing paths. In fact, it was in his Chicago hospital bed that Nash was struck by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words: “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” And as his hoop dreams faded, Nash has doubled down on his commitment to acting on the resonance King’s words held for him.
Though graduation is next spring for the Community and International Development major, he is already at work, balancing studies with two jobs: public policy and research analyst in the City of Burlington Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department and director of Next Generation Justice, a fledgling non-profit working with prosecutors on policy. Over the last eight months, Nash also managed the successful Vermont Senate campaign of Kesha Ram, the first woman of color elected to the chamber.
Ram, a UVM Class of 2008 alumna, says of Nash: “Skyler, I always forget how old he is. He carries himself so professionally, he holds so much being an athletic leader, running a campaign, being a tall Black man in Vermont, working on racial justice issues in the State House. I learned as much from him, I think, as he learned from me.”
Though he takes pride in having a role in Ram’s success, Nash says he thinks he’s a “one and done” when it comes to political campaigning, preferring the nitty gritty of governance and policy work as ways to effect change.
Nash says he was drawn to the Community and International Development major "because I felt confident the coursework would provide me the skills and knowledge to bridge the gap between the world as it is and how it ought to be." Particularly influential courses include international development with Ned McMahon and "World Population, Food, and Sustainable Development," taught by Dan Baker.
Nearly from the moment he arrived on campus, Nash has been committed to staying in Vermont beyond his college years. And as he’s come to know the state and its people, particularly through his work on Ram’s campaign, that commitment has only grown.
Comparing Vermont to his native Chicago, Nash says he was immediately struck by the sense of inclusion. “You hear the stories and feel the palpable energy of togetherness and inclusivity and that everybody’s equal,” he says. “And that was new to me because that’s not something that you view as tangibly in a place like Chicago, because as diverse as it is, it is also equally as segregated, racially, culturally and by class.”
But over time, Nash came to see where some myth may cloud reality.
“Vermont, in a lot of ways it is a fantastic microcosm of the issues that we face as a country,” he says. “We have this really fantastic story that so many of us are attached to, and I think it’s that story that makes us really exceptional. But because of belief in that story, we sometimes skip the steps of actually doing the hard work necessary to making this an inclusive, equitable place for all people.”
Helping his adopted home state get there is what Nash is all about as he charts life after UVM. “It is really crazy for me to sit here now four years later and see where I’m at in this community and the way that it has accepted me,” Nash says. “But it also remains a constant challenge for me, and a lot of people I work with, to recognize that while we’ve been accepted, so many people have not. There’s continuously so much work to do every day to get the state to where it could be and should be.”