Q&A: Markus Batchelor, A Young Leader From Ward 8, GW Student

Meet Markus Batchelor, A Young Leader From Anacostia

WASHINGTON -- Sitting in a Foggy Bottom Starbucks on Sunday, a woman leaned over to ask Markus Batchelor his age.

"Wow," she said when the George Washington University freshman said he's 19. "We were just sitting here listening to you talk and if you're our future, we're in good hands."

It's hard to argue. Batchelor is a George Washington University freshman with a resume that's more impressive than many adults. He's the first vice president of the Ward 8 Democrats, spends six to eight hours a week interning with D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large) and is co-founder of the DC Statehood Student Association.

At school, he sits on the Public Service Grant Commission, runs the GW chapter of the DC Statehood Student Association, and just an hour before he met with The Huffington Post for coffee, announced his candidacy for the student Senate. He is also a third-generation Washingtonian who grew up in Ward 8, previously served as District of Columbia youth mayor and is the only child of a single mother.

HuffPost DC caught up with Batchelor to figure out what's next for one the city's promising young leaders.

HuffPost DC: What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

Batchelor: That's hard... probably serving as youth mayor in 2009 to 2010 only because it was the catalyst to me getting involved in public service and me being more involved in the city. [...] That year really was one of the most important years so far because it was kind of the year where I felt like public service was what I was going to do. But it was also the point where I felt now there's no turning back: I've started my public service and it's time to keep the ball rolling.

HuffPost DC: Does being involved in public service keep you from cutting loose like a college student?

Batchelor: I'm still at that point where there's a split between public and private. I'm not a big party goer to begin with, so I don't feel like I have to mask anything I do or anything like that.

HuffPost DC: How did you decide on George Washington University?

Batchelor: I was awarded the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship, so that was a full-ride [scholarship], hands down, to GW. And earlier in the [college application] process, my main interest wasn't even going to school in D.C. But I talked it over with my mom and she said, "Well you should apply to D.C. schools." And I said "OK. I'll apply to GW and Georgetown." [After receiving the Trachtenburg scholarship, he was also accepted to Georgetown University,] and the offer was good, but it was still $600 short of what I needed. I went to [the Georgetown admissions office] and long story short they gave me the $600.

HuffPost DC: Only $600?
Batchelor: Yeah. (laughs)

[...] In the end I chose to come [to GW] because the opportunities that I have here I would say trumped Georgetown by far. I felt like I could contribute more here I would have more opportunities to explore my own interests.

HuffPost DC: Has D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, a George Washington University alumnus, told you anything about GW?

Batchelor: ... I asked him ... if he had any tips for me as a new GW student. The one thing he told me is that I should try to be as involved as possible. I'm sure he was aware of my ambition, city-wide, but I think he felt that it was important that I be involved in the school community and that I make my mark here. I feel like this is a very new community and not being involved would be a disservice to myself.

HuffPost DC: How would you characterize your role at GW?

Batchelor: I feel as though that's been my mission since I've been here: breaking the stereotype of what people think about D.C. Everybody here doesn't work for the federal government, no one here has the right to congressional representation. You know, I went to school in Anacostia and when you hear the word "Anacostia" around GW, it kind of has a negative connotation.

But I always like to tell people Anacostia is becoming something very new. It's becoming a very thriving arts district. [...] It's adding to the culture that was already there and I think it's a great place for students to explore even though it has its problems, just like every other part of the city.

HuffPost DC: What negative connotations have you encountered?

Batchelor: I've heard people, at least my friends, tell stories about how their professor will be like "OK well, we're going to do a project on D.C. -- just don't go to Anacostia."

That just surprised me when I came on campus. I would think that nobody would know about neighborhoods in Ward 8 or know about those parts of the city. But people would ask me "Oh have you ever been to Anacostia?" I'm like, "Yeah, I live a mile from Anacostia." And then they'd say something like "Oh I heard there's a lot of crime there." And I'm like, "Yeah, just as much crime here on GW, you get the [campus crime] alerts."

But you know, it's great because this past September I ran for first vice-president of the Ward 8 Democrats and I got the opportunity to invite maybe seven or eight of my classmates to come and help me campaign for that position. And we were right in the middle of Anacostia [...] It was great to see my classmates integrate in the community, I mean they were on sidewalks passing out fliers, going in and out of barber shops and convenience stores and stuff and pulling out voters. It was a great experience to bring some of my classmates who have their preconceived notions about the community and bring them right into the community so they can see what it's about for themselves.

HuffPost DC: What about D.C. statehood? Since coming to college, do you feel differently about your arrest for civil disobedience at the White House?

Batchelor: I don't think my perspective has changed. [...] I like to tell people that D.C. statehood should be and can be the leading civil rights issue in our nation right now. [...] Over the past 20 to 30 years, people have been making concessions. And I feel like we're kind moving back to the all-or-nothing atmosphere where, you know, we deserve every right that all Americans get. Hopefully that intensifies. [...] My deepest conviction is that it can, should and probably will happen in my lifetime.

HuffPost DC: So how does your mom feel about everything you're doing?

Batchelor: My mom is a single parent so she always tells me that her purpose in life is making sure I do well and I think my mom supports what I do. She was out campaigning for me when I ran for first vice president of the Ward 8 Democrats. [...] But she consistently lets me know that her first priority is that I do well in school. So even though she’s very excited to see me involved, she is not too fond of going to Ward 8 Democrats' executive meetings at 9 o'clock and then travelling all the way back to GW. She’s always like "Oh you're involved in too much, you need to focus on school." I'm still working on that good balance between school and extracurriculars. It is a challenge, to be perfectly honest with you, but as I progress I think I'm getting a little better at it.

CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this Q&A, Batchelor was described as a native of Anacostia. This post has been updated to say he is from Ward 8. Anacostia's identity can be complicated subject.

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