Week 30: Asking Congress for Advice – Congresswoman Terri Sewell

My name is Davis. I am spending a year reaching out to role models. Here’s why

Courtesy of Congresswomen Terri Sewell

I didn’t have many peer role models growing up. The ones I did were those who graduated from my high school and went to colleges like Emory or Georgia Tech; they were heroes who proved that students in our community could go to college.

As a teenager, I would imagine how my heroes would come back after they graduated from college and help rebuild our community. It never happened. When my heroes graduated from college, they would choose to move elsewhere. I didn’t blame them.

When I came to Yale, I wrote about my dream of returning home and rebuilding my home community of Clayton County. Three years later, I am two months from graduating from Yale and having lived and worked in various parts of the world during college, I can see why many of my heroes chose not to return; better opportunities awaited them outside our troubled community.

After graduation, I won’t be returning to Clayton County, but I am far from giving up my hope of rebuilding my community.

Earlier this month, The March from Selma to Montgomery, a civil rights march in 1965 to demonstrate the civil injustice of the American South at the time, celebrated its 50th anniversary.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama joined thousands of Americans including Congressman John Lewis (who was an organizer in the original march) to honor those original marchers by walking part of the trail.

I was watching the coverage with my roommates on our TV. One of the people interviewed was Selma’s Congressional representative, Terri Sewell.

I did not know who Congresswoman Sewell was until the interview but I noticed how her journey was similar to the path I want to take.

Who is Terri Sewell

Congresswoman Sewell was raised in Selma (an area of mostly African Americans). Her dad was an athletics coach and her mom a librarian. She became the first black valedictorian of Selma High School before graduating from Princeton University. She continued her education earning a Master’s at Oxford University and a Law Degree from Harvard.

After law school, she worked at Davis Polk & Wardwell, one of the most prestigious law firms in America. With her credentials, she could have a career anywhere she wants to live, but she chose to return to her home in Selma, Alabama.

I wanted to ask how she knew when was the right time to return to Selma and serve her community?

Finding Contact Information

I begin looking for Congresswomen Sewell’s contact information.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.26.14 PM

I click the link to her website.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.26.22 PM

I click the “Contact Rep. Sewell page”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.26.43 PM

Looks like she doesn’t reply to any emails from constituents outside of her district. So I need to find the zip-code of someone who lives in her district. Since I know Selma is in her district, I search for Selma’s Zip code.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.27.40 PM

Found one.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.27.49 PMLet’s see what happens next.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.27.54 PMAlright looks like this form will only cause my email to get lost in a vortex of other emails. I’m going to look for another method of contacting her. Maybe a mailing address.

I find one at the bottom of the website for her local office in Birmingham.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.33.10 PM

Crafting a Message

When I am planning to write a hand-written letter, I still like to draft a letter on my laptop. I usually go through 3 or 4 drafts before I get to the letter I want to write. When I am done, I print the final draft and write the written letter. (Hindsight: with this particular note card, I will in the future stay under 200 words)

Photo on 3-18-15 at 5.32 PM

Who to Send To

Knowing my own Congressman, he isn’t the one who receives his own mail, his District Director takes care of that. Time to find out who Congresswomen Sewell’s District Director is. I go back to her website.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.29.19 PM

Since I will be addressing my mail to Chasseny Lewis, I wrote her a letter. (In hindsight, writing on copy paper with my handwriting is quite hard…)


Standing Out

To make my mail standout once more, I decided to create a custom envelope to mail everything in. (To know how I did this check my do-it-yourself guide here).


Current Progress:

March 27th – Mailed off and waiting response.

Next Week

This week, I will be reaching out to Robert Shiller, who won the 2013 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Week 29: Internet Celebrity – Michael Buckley


My name is Davis. I am spending a year reaching out to role models. Here’s why.  Who knew an obsession with Celebrity Gossip could earn you six-figures a year? I doubt Michael Buckley knew either when he started “What the Buck”, a YouTube video blog where he offers his opinions on pop culture. Michael’s videos were so popular that he […]

Continue reading...

Week 28: Connecting with the CEO of a large company – Jamie Dimon


My name is Davis. I am spending a year reaching out to role models. Here’s why.  My boss last summer was also my housemate. Since we were working and living together, we had plenty of opportunities to learn about each other’s pasts. One of the stories he shared was from his time working for Jamie Dimon, the CEO of […]

Continue reading...

Week 27: The Art of Sending Thank You Messages – Peter Vanderkaay

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.41.41 AM

My name is Davis. I am spending a year reaching out to role models. Here’s why.  One of my New Year’s Resolution is learn to swim properly so I signed up for a swimming class. I look forward to my lessons each week, but each practice has proven challenging. Unlike the other swimmers in my group, I […]

Continue reading...

26 Things I Learned From Reaching Out To Strangers

Twenty-six weeks ago, I challenged myself. Every week for a year, I would reach out to one person I admire, but never met. These people varied from role models I looked up to as a kid to those I saw from afar. My hope was to learn more about how to click with strangers and encourage others, regardless of their […]

Continue reading...