Shammas Malik, otherwise known by his peers as POTUS 2K??, just began a new position as an Assistant Law Director with the City of Akron. Prior to this role, Shammas was the Regional Voter Protection Director for Ohio's grassroots campaign to elect Hilary Clinton. Oh, and before I forget, he's also a recent Harvard Law School graduate.
I've known Shammas since our days at Akron Firestone High School, where he graduated with my older sister before earning his undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University. I looked up to him then and, for obvious reasons, still do. Whether he's notifying his Facebook followers with the most recent Kanye West news or the latest political update, you can always count on him for sharing reliable sources. We all know that's hard to come by these days. Wherever this kid from Akron ends up, his path will undoubtedly be succesfull and impactful.
The Reference Club: What are your plans now that the election is over?
Shammas Malik: I’m going to stay here in Akron, working for the city as an attorney. Even before the campaign, I had moved back home and wanted to stay. It’s been wonderful being back here, where the people, places, and issues are so familiar and meaningful.
TRC: What motivated you to want to work in public service instead of working for a bigger law firm after graduating from Harvard Law?
SM: The biggest influence was my mom. She worked as a professor at the University of Akron for over 20 years. Watching her tireless work, the takeaway was to find something that’s both enjoyable and helps others. Since, I’ve always been really interested in public policy and government, so that seemed like the best route for me, at least to start. Certainly lots of great work can be done in the private sector as well.
TRC: Props. Three words: Harvard Law School. Can you tell us about it? Did you ever feel overwhelmed? Proud?
SM: It was incredible - one of those things that you never really believe is possible, until you’re sitting there watching Legally Blonde during orientation (really happened). But being around so many people who have such varied experiences but are interested in similar issues, it was wonderful. I felt overwhelmed and inadequate too often, but you get over that. Proud, certainly, but also really thankful for all the folks who made it possible.
TRC: The real testament is if you learned how to "bend and snap". What’s your attachment to Akron? Why did you choose to come back after finishing in Boston?
SM: I’ve spent a good bit of time in Columbus, DC, and Boston, and they’re all great places, but there’s definitely something special about being back home, like I mentioned before, where there’s a real sense of community and belonging and insight that comes from growing up in a place and then discovering it again as an adult. It’s kinda corny, but LeBron’s letter when he returned to the Cavs (http://www.si.com/nba/2014/07/11/lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliers) really resonated with me. This is the place I’m from, that gave so much to me, that I care about.
TRC: If you could shadow one politician for a week, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
SM: Bobby Kennedy, no question. Five years after JFK was killed, his brother Bobby was assassinated, just as he’s running for president. He’s been sort of idealized in death as this symbol of unrealized hope. There was something, after his brother was killed, that happened inside him, he had this newfound ability to empathize with suffering, and all of a sudden he was spending his time in bleak inner city neighborhoods, in Appalachian towns, out in California with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers, and overseas in the poor areas in South Africa and elsewhere. He gave one of the most powerful speeches in the history of American politics, during his presidential campaign, in Indiana, on the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, only a few months before he himself would be killed in the same way. It’s tragic and powerful, and sadly something that resonates so much in our present times (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoKzCff8Zbs).
TRC: What advice do you have for anyone interested in or pursuing a career in the legal field?
SM: Probably the most important thing is just being sure it’s something you want to do before making the time / money / stress investment in law school. But another thing is giving yourself room to find areas of the law that interest you – I went into law school thinking I wanted to do national security and foreign policy stuff, but ended up with local government law and environmental law as some of my favorite classes.
TRC: Irrelevant but 330-worthy: Luigi’s or Swenson’s?
SM: Gotta go with Swenson’s. Luigis has excellent pizza and pasta, but Swenson’s has one of the best burgers of alllllll time. And while I’m throwing in so many links, here’s LeBron and Amy Schumer at Swenson’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr9DHV_AL64).
TRC: Readers, remember when I told you that you can rely on Shammas for valid sources? Do you have any suggestions for how our communities move on from this presidential election? How do we bridge the divide?
SM: I think this is really important. It’s tough, we live in these communities that are so racially, politically, and culturally segregated that it’s often hard to see where the other person is coming from. I think the lesson from Bobby Kennedy is that we have to try to empathize with others, especially people we don’t understand and people we disagree with. It’s hard in practice, especially trying to empathize with people spewing sexist or racist rhetoric. But we’ve all faced challenges in our life, often unseen, that make us who we are. We all live in a society with huge systemic inequalities that shape us. We can and should condemn words and behavior that are beyond the pale, but in such a divided country, we have to find some way of relating to one another.