Making An Impact
Brittany Stephenson First African American Woman Elected to Luzerne County Council
As a student at Commonwealth University-Bloomsburg, Brittany Stephenson ’21/’23M was determined to make a positive impact on campus.
Now she has an opportunity to make an impact on an even larger scale. On Nov. 7, 2023, she was the first Black person, the first Jamaican American, and the first Black Woman elected to serve as a member of Luzerne County Council.
“I grew up in Wilkes-Barre. I went to G.A.R. Memorial High School. This is my community,” says Stephenson, who majored in English, secondary education, and communication studies as an undergraduate, and earned her master’s degree in education leadership in college student affairs in December.
“After graduation, I wanted to be home to serve my community. I knew that I needed to find an avenue to allow me to provide specific supports to the black and brown community, but also other neighboring communities who are dealing with the opioid crisis, affordable housing, and food insecurity. These are all issues that we address. I’m the type of person who likes to take action and execute and build with people. Being on County Council will be an amazing way to access the day-to-day lives of people who live here.”
One of 11 members of Luzerne County Council, Stephenson will help govern a county with more than 325,000 residents and set policy for a county government with a $161.8 million annual budget.
She comes to county council after having made lasting changes on the Bloomsburg campus. While a student, she was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Black Culture Society, the Writing and Literacy Engagement Studio, Act 101 , and the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“Brittany was instrumental in advancing DEI initiatives at Commonwealth University-Bloomsburg. For example, she played an instrumental role in the development of the Black Studies Minor,” says Ralph Godbolt, Commonwealth University’s director diversity retention and outreach.
“And Brittany understood that food and basic needs insecurity impacts the overall well-being of students,” adds Godbolt. “She would often say, ‘hunger can negatively impact academic performance.’ She played a leading role in the growth of the Basic Needs Shoppe and played a leading role in the development of a series of workshops to assist students in understanding the SNAP program and applying for food benefits. Due to the work of Brittany and other students within the Act 101 program, the former first lady of Pennsylvania, Francis Wolf visited the Basic Needs Shoppe in April of 2022 and recognized the shoppe as a best practice.”
For Stephenson, getting an education and using that education to make a difference was always the plan.
“My mother is a Jamaican migrant. In my family education was always the expectation. It’s the idea that you train your mind and your mind is going to get you out of poverty,” says Stephenson. “However, deciding that school was a path I wanted also felt like a very individual process.” My mom doesn’t know a lot about the system. I had to figure out FAFSA by myself. Bloomsburg is 30 minutes away. It’s far away enough from home, but close enough where I can come back every weekend and be with my friends and my family.”
“Coming to Bloomsburg was a culture shock experience, for sure,” recalls Stephenson. "You wouldn't think that going from Wilkes-Barre to Bloomsburg would be so different, but it was. I was a triple major in undergraduate, and I struggled to acclimate. Being able to participate in various classroom environments was challenging”
“Staying at Bloomsburg had a lot to do with the relationships that I made,” says Stephenson. “I give a lot of credit to Ted Roggenbuck, an English professor who runs the writing center. He’s a huge reason I stayed.”
As she was finishing her undergraduate degree in the fall of 2021, Stephenson discovered Commonwealth’s graduate program in college student affairs. “I was doing DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work with Albert Jones (chief diversity equity and inclusion officer). I realized that there’s a whole career that allows me to care for people holistically, not only about what happens to them in an academic space, but what they are learning and applying in their personal lives plays a role. The true intersection of academia and navigating personal experiences in society.”
Stephenson is an unabashed champion for diversity in Luzerne County, where 25% of the population come from diverse backgrounds.
“Luzerne County is diverse, but I feel we 're so separated,” says Stephenson. “The diverse groups range from Hispanic, Native American, Black, Asian., etc. We have larger Jamaican and Jewish communities than people think.”
“Being in this position on county council shows people that they can participate,” says Stephenson. “They can come outside of their homes and sit here and have a conversation