January 4, 2021
By Kate Robins
How did Jaylan Scott, a self-described shy, “nerdy kid” become a 20-year-old college student who has held more party offices than most life-long Democrats?
He refused to stay within his comfort zone and, in his words, “TRIO found me.”
More on that in a minute. In the meantime, consider his political resume.
Scott is Executive Vice President of Young Democrats of Georgia, the youth-led powerhouse working overtime to support Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections. He’s secretary and treasurer of the Georgia Campaign Workers Guild and a member of the executive committee for the Macon-Bibb Democratic Party.
He worked on campaigns for Democratic National Committee vice chair Michael Blake, newly installed U.S. Representative Nikema Williams, and Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Abrams appointed Scott to be a delegate at the Democratic Party of Georgia’s State Convention.
A junior in college, he also supports himself with a full-time job while carrying a full academic load as a public policy major at Georgia State University. He says he sleeps, but it’s hard to know when — or how he has time.
What is his advice for those who might want to follow in his footsteps? “Don’t stay in a comfortable mindset wherever you are,” Scott says.
Scott figured this out when he was “the little nerdy kid in class who didn’t talk much.” He had been passionate about politics ever since attending city council meetings in his early youth with his father, a Macon fire chief. In those meetings he watched policies, ordinances and legislation being passed, and he saw how getting involved could make a difference. Around the same time, his parents divorced, and his single mother worked long hours to support her two kids.
Yet his exposure to politics gave him perspective. Beyond his own home situation, “right across the interstate,” Scott saw people in worse situations than his, impoverished in crime and blight-ridden neighborhoods — and he also saw “a bunch of opportunities” to help make things better. Rising to those opportunities, however, meant overcoming shyness. “Politics is mostly talking,” he said. “Messaging. Putting yourself in front of crowds and talking to people. I doubted that I’d ever get anywhere in politics because I was nervous all the time. But the moment I put myself in uncomfortable positions, that’s when everything changed around me.”
Scott’s formula to “make dreams happen” works like this: experience the uncomfortable, improve yourself to where you’re comfortable, then take on new uncomfortable experiences and repeat. “Experience brings opportunity, but you have to put yourself in uncomfortable positions and then do anything and everything you can,” he says.
How does one find that first opportunity and experience in high school? Scott cuts to the chase: “TRIO found me,” he said. Scott had always looked up to his sister’s high school peer Juawn Jackson, who was “super politically involved.” Jackson was also an advisor for the Macon Alpha Phi Alpha TRIO Talent Search program, which helps middle and high school students continue to the next grade level, graduate from high school, and enroll in and complete a college education.
Scott timidly reached out to Jackson through Facebook Messenger, half expecting to hear nothing. He asked him how one gets involved in politics. Jackson responded immediately. He arranged to take Scott to the state Capitol, among other key places, to meet a host of political figures. Jackson also helped Scott sign up for TRIO’s Talent Search program. “It’s one thing to have an idea and to want to do it, but you have to get yourself in position to actually do it,” Scott says.
Scott “really, firmly believes that TRIO works.” He felt “TRIO working” immediately after enrolling in Talent Search; his family encountered college application and test fees that they could not pay. The program paid the fees and also provided Scott with test prep resources, career direction and then, through the mentor/mentee relationship with Jackson, a head start on that career. Talent Search particularly drilled into him the drive to strive for academic excellence and to get schoolwork “handled,” before anything else, to allow time to do other things. That schooling in time management opened him up for public service.
Jackson encouraged Scott to intern on Michael Blake’s campaign for DNC vice chair. Scott remembers traveling to the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta in 2017. “It was really surreal,” he says. Disoriented from having just arrived in a new city, the convention center doors opened and Scott immediately got his bearings. Supporters milled about with signs for former Minnesota House Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. He saw Michael Blake, Rep. Maxine Waters, presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, and future South Carolina senatorial candidate Jaime Harrison. And he saw Blake win vice chair.
“That ended up being one of the most important events of my life,” he says. “I had been working for months on the campaign and it was almost like everything came to fruition at that point. I knew what direction I wanted to move in. I knew I was in the right place.”
[ Contact your institution leadership to ensure TRIO students are prioritized in the latest COVID-19 relief legislation. Learn more by clicking here (.doc). ]
Later, he helped set up Stacey Abrams’ historic gubernatorial campaign and experienced a different kind of political intensity when Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp in 2018. Scott told Yahoo! News, “I remember around that time, the excitement was super high. It was like we knew that Stacey was going to flip Georgia, but it didn’t happen.”
Most recently Scott worked on Nikema Williams’ successful campaign for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which put her in the seat that the late civil rights icon John Lewis held since 1987. Now he is focused on ensuring that Georgia’s youth cast ballots in the January 5 runoffs.
While all eyes are on Georgia and the youth vote in particular, Scott appears frequently in the national press. “I give it back to TRIO because if it wasn’t for TRIO I wouldn’t have these opportunities in the first place,” he says.