2024 Truman Scholarship recipient Mikayla Tillery. (Image credit: Courtesy Mikayla Tillery)

Mikayla Tillery is a recipient of the 2024 Truman Scholarship for her commitment to housing and energy justice. Through the Truman Scholarship, the Harry S. Truman Foundation provides up to $30,000 for recipients to attend graduate school in a field of their choosing in pursuit of a career in public service.

Mikayla is a junior double majoring in urban studies and African and African American studies. She has been recognized as an Ernest Houston Johnson Scholar, a program named for the first Black graduate student at Stanford University.

Throughout her time at Stanford, Mikayla has immersed herself in various service opportunities, addressing housing and energy issues in a way that centers the frontline communities most acutely affected by systemic housing inequities.

One avenue where Mikayla has fought for housing justice is through policy. Through her volunteer work with the Palo Alto Renters’ Association (PARA), she created public participation documents with the Just Transitions Policy Lab, building on PARA’s effort to fight for tenants’ rights. These documents were distributed by Santa Clara County, which is home to more than 800,000 renters.

Mikayla was a Partnerships for Climate Justice in the Bay Area (PCJ in the Bay) fellow during the summer of 2023. This fellowship, offered through the Haas Center for Public Service, enables students to work with a Bay Area partner organization on a summer project focused on climate resilience and community engagement. She produced a memo on behalf of her host organization, the Greenlining Institute, that outlined recommendations for more equitable access to the SolSmart program, which helps local governments implement solar energy.

On campus, Mikayla is one of 15 elected senators who serve on the Associated Students of Stanford University council. She has worked with other senators to reinstate an electric bus route on campus. Mikayla was appointed as the undergraduate representative for the Stanford Board of Trustees Committee on Land, Buildings, and Real Estate, where she has worked with the board on their plan to increase access to affordable housing for service workers.

Mikayla’s passion for public service was sparked before she ever stepped on Stanford’s campus. Her advocacy for housing, energy, and racial justice has been largely informed by her experience as a Black woman in rural Pennsylvania.

“Through years of housing justice advocacy, electoral organizing, and racial justice activism, my commitment to civic engagement allows me to reclaim agency in spaces that I had been denied access to growing up,” Mikayla said. “These experiences influence how I view anti-Blackness in the United States, and it reaffirms to me how much we achieve when housing and energy policy center frontline communities.”

As a high school student, Mikayla was appointed as the student representative on the Butler Township Board of Commissioners, making history as the first Black person to serve on the board. While there, she conducted a survey for local youth on their knowledge of local government issues and voter registration status. The responses informed the township’s youth civic engagement strategy. She also founded Students for Black Maternal Health, a coalition of more than 500 Black youth that advocates for policy to address the high maternal mortality rate among Black women.

Mikayla continues her support for the Black community at Stanford through her work at the Black Community Service Center. During her time there, she has helped hundreds of incoming Black students adjust to life on campus during their first year by establishing transitional programs.

As Mikayla looks forward to her time beyond Stanford, she plans to continue her pursuit of fair housing and eviction advocacy by attending law school and pursuing a career that fights for those who are disadvantaged by housing discrimination, neighborhood segregation, and redlining.

Of receiving a Truman scholarship, Mikayla says, “I am so grateful to have had so much support poured into me here at Stanford. Winning the Truman Scholarship is a reminder of the obligation we have to leverage our institutional resources and support systems to pour into others, to challenge the systems of oppression that impact our communities.”