Pamela Horsford came to the U.S. from Trinidad when she was 12 years old and became a U.S. resident last year. One of the questions on her citizenship test was, “Who is your congressman?” It was easy for her to answer: her son, U.S. Congressman Steven Horsford, serving the 4th district of Nevada where Ms. Horsford resides.
Steven was ten years old when he needed to take care of his younger siblings because of his mother’s battle with addiction. He worked two jobs while attending high school and was studying political science and communications at the University of Nevada, Reno when his father was shot and killed. Horsford, then 19 years old, came home to help his family. A year later he returned to the university, where he was a member of TRIO Student Support Services and earned his degree.
Before his political career, Horsford launched and led the Culinary Training Academy, which helped thousands of Nevadans find well-compensated careers in the state’s hospitality industry. Later, he became the first African American to serve as Majority Leader of the Nevada State Senate and the first African American to represent Nevada in Congress. “It was the TRIO experience that taught me that I had a voice, and I could speak up for myself,” Horsford said in the Tuesday plenary session, “From TRIO to the Halls of Congress.”
Moderator Henry Bonilla, a former member of the U.S. Congress and TRIO Talent Search alum, said compelling personal stories such as Rep. Horsford’s are especially powerful when told during the annual conference. That’s because they inspire and motivate TRIO leaders to continue to go the extra mile. Bonilla reminded TRIO practitioners in the audience that they have in their hands the real possibility of producing more leaders like Horsford.
Bonilla, who was raised in poverty, said that he felt that people who succeed in TRIO have greater chances of meeting future opportunities successfully. “There are some dark days…and I believe that when educators help pull a TRIO student through, they’re producing an American that has more strength out there than perhaps someone who might have had a lot of stuff handed to them,” he said.
Although Georgia Senator and Upward Bound alumnus Raphael Warnock couldn’t attend the session in person, he contributed a video message. He said that every day he is acutely aware of the positive effect that TRIO had on his life and is always focused on expanding opportunity for others. “America is a land of possibility. And your parents’ income should never determine your outcome,” he said.
Horsford encouraged attendees who want to get active to move beyond their institutions and appreciate the role that non-profit and community organizations play in reaching students from marginalized communities. He recommended they engage with people they align with, who will become their mentors. He did not plan to be a politician; he simply wanted to give back. Public service is one way but not the only way, he noted. He was an intern in the Nevada legislature and volunteered for a gubernatorial candidate just to learn. Later a state senate seat opened, and he said, “Why not me?”
Horsford said he eventually ran for Congress because in that position he could serve his community full time. “My lived experience is unique and deserves to be heard in the halls of Congress. Just like it deserves to be heard in the halls of state legislatures,” Horsford said.
Currently, five TRIO alumni serve in the U.S. Congress; they are Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Nikema Williams (D-GA). Past TRIO alumni who have served in Congress include former Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX).