A Social Justice Cowboy
Jamir Graham ‘22 likes to joke that he started riding horses before he was even born. His mother, an avid equestrian, probably rode while pregnant. Growing up in the Bay Area, Jamir and his mother moved frequently, but his reliable second home was always his grandparents’ ranch in Wilton, California in Sacramento County.
“I spent most weekends and summers roping cows instead of playing catch. We would clean stalls and rope until the mosquitoes came out in the afternoon,” said Jamir. “I don’t see horses as a hobby. It’s my culture.”
Jamir was about twelve years old when he first joined his grandfather on a trip to Oakland to teach children about horses. For many of the children Jamir met during these trips, this was a first experience with horses. Jamir clearly remembers the moment when he saw a spark of pure joy in the eyes of a child he helped onto the back of a horse.
“Seeing that spark made me realize that serving others, and contributing to someone experiencing something new, was something I wanted to keep doing,” said Jamir. “I was lucky to grow up in a family that really works for the community. Helping others was always a part of my life, so it comes pretty naturally.”
Throughout high school, Jamir volunteered with the nonprofit Spurred Up to teach horseback riding skills to young people. In addition, he and his classmates formed the Oscar Grant Ballers Basketball team, which is committed to social justice and keeping the legacy of Oakland’s Oscar Grant alive. Jamir is proud that what started as a small seven-player team has now expanded into 45 different teams across the country.
After high school, Jamir hoped to attend a service-oriented college and Holy Names quickly became his top choice, after receiving an extensive scholarship and financial aid package. He decided it was meant to be when, while on a campus tour at HNU, he took five distance basketball shots in Tobin Gym and made every single one.
“I knew pretty quickly I was in the right spot,” Jamir recalled. “My first week at HNU we went on a group volunteer trip to pick up trash in Oakland. The next month we went to build houses in Tutwiler, Mississippi, and the next year we went on a service trip to Puerto Rico. … My biggest passion is to serve my community. And I know Holy Names is where I belong because it’s a school that does that.”
Jamir, now in his senior year as a business marketing major with a minor in communication, has taken on many leadership roles at HNU. He served as an executive for the Red Cross Club, Black Student Union, and ASHNU, and works as a Peer Mentor. He is part of the University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee and started the podcast Rise Up 510 with classmate Brenda Moreno to talk about DEI issues on campus.
“Everyone here is either a mentor or a friend, or both. Most are both,” said Jamir. He credits his professor Tobin Costen, MBA ‘08, for helping him start his own business giving private horseback riding lessons. He is also grateful to Freddy Gutierrez, director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement, for connecting him to a work-study job at the Metropolitan Horse Man’s Association, an Oakland organization that provides riding events for nonprofits and local youth.
“That’s the community style at HNU. If you need something we are going to do our best to help you. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. We help each other,” said Jamir.
Jamir plans to become a lawyer and recently started an internship at the Office of the Alameda County Public Defender. The prized internship came his way after mentioning his career ambition to the mother of one of his horseback riding students—who turned out to be a public defender.
“I was starting to wonder if I really wanted to become a lawyer…until now,” he said. “I’ve had internships in other areas before, but this feels like where I belong. When I arrived there, I got the same feeling I had when I started at HNU.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of HNU Today
That’s the community style at HNU. If you need something we are going to do our best to help you. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. We help each other.”
– Jamir Graham ’22, Business Marketing Major with a Minor in Communications