Posted June 9, 2016

Ending the cycle of violence

Jamira Burley, FOX ’12, decided at an early age that she wanted to improve the conditions of her community.

Video Production: Gina Benigno
Jamira Burley, FOX ’12, was born in Philadelphia at the height of the city’s drug epidemic. From an early age, she watched as violence overtook her community and knew she wanted better for herself. She just wasn’t sure how to go about it.

Then tragedy struck home.

When she was 15 years old, her 20-year-old brother Andre was shot and killed in Philadelphia. That same year, her father was convicted of a different murder in Virginia.

It was then that Burley knew how she would channel her energy.

She started at her school, West Philadelphia’s Overbrook High. With her principal’s encouragement, she co-founded the Panther Peace Core [sic], an anti-violence peer mediation group. The program reduced violence in the school by 30 percent—and earned Burley a $50,000 grant to develop the program in 10 of Philadelphia’s most violent high schools.

Clearly, being a catalyst for change suited her.

At Temple, Burley majored in business and honed her leadership skills as an Owl Ambassador and a member of the Black Student Union. She also worked as director of public engagement for Temple Student Government.

The university’s service-oriented approach to education affirmed her passion for being a change agent.

A month before graduation, Burley successfully interviewed for a position in City Hall that perfectly paired her experience with her mission. She was appointed executive director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission at age 23—the city’s youngest agency executive.

The position gave her the opportunity to lead youth engagement programs for more than 600,000 people under the age of 25 in Philadelphia. During her tenure, the organization registered more than 75,000 young voters.

“Explaining to young people the power of their votes and working with them to understand how a piece of legislation is implemented into their community is transformative,” said Burley.

After two years in the role, she was ready for her next challenge.

“I wanted to take what I learned in the mayor’s office and build that out on an international stage,” she said.

In 2014, she expanded the scale of her work when she became a senior campaigner who focuses on criminal justice, gun violence and human rights for the global nonprofit Amnesty International.

That same year, she was one of 12 individuals recognized by the White House as a Champion for Change for gun violence prevention.

“It was a pretty cool experience,” Burley said. “I never thought that I—a person from West Philadelphia—would find my way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., just steps away from where the president lays his head.”

In a world without Temple, a voice against violence might not be heard.

Learn more about the impact of Temple alumni.