OBERLIN, Ohio – Former Jr. Miss Muscogee Nation Iesha Phillips has had many accomplishments as a young Mvskoke woman and leader since her 2017-2018 reign.
Recently, Phillips has been named a 2021 Truman Scholar, a prestigious award that recognizes college juniors for their public service and rewarding them with a $30,000 scholarship for graduate school as well as provide access to professional development programming and fellowships, and a vast scholar-alumni network.
Truman Scholars are awarded through the 33rd U.S. President’s memorial: the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. The foundation has been awarding scholars since 1977.
This year, 845 students applied for this award, but only 62 were awarded this scholarship. Phillips was the only scholar selected for Oklahoma.
Currently, Phillips attends Oberlin College in Ohio where she is double-majoring in Africana Studies and Law and Society while minoring in Rhetoric and Composition.
At Oberlin, she is a member of Oberlin’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee, a writing associate at the Writing Center, a writing tutor at Oberlin High School, an assistant in the Fellowship and Awards Office, and serves on the Student Honor Committee. She also co-founded Coronavirus Oberlin Mutual Aid Fund (COMA), a mutual aid organization that raised over $60,000 to support more than 100 first-generation and/or low-income students.
Phillips also volunteers at juvenile detention facilities throughout Ohio with Writers in Residence, which piqued her interest in juvenile justice and combating social determinants that have resulted in poverty and a cycle of survival crime.
“The United States has an incarceration crisis. In Oklahoma, we have the highest incarceration rate of women in the world. Ultimately, I want to fight the over incarceration of women because it leads to the overincarceration of youth,” Phillips said. “I hope to do this through working as a Public Defender for low-income women, then shifting my focus to impact litigation to change entire systems.”
Phillips grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma in a single parent, low-income home raised by her mother who was Black and Mvskoke. Growing up with an incarcerated parent, Phillips and her family participated in programs like New Hope Oklahoma, where she would be introduced to public service.
“They supported my single-parent family by providing us with basic necessities like food, electricity and community,” she said. “Every year since I was four, they bought Christmas presents for me and my siblings because they knew my mother could not afford any gifts.”
“Through the compassion of their volunteers, New Hope instilled hope, strength, and self-worth in my life. These gestures filled me with a passion to serve my communities and make the same difference in children’s lives.”
Phillips was motivated to apply for the Truman because of its emphasis on public service and vast network of scholars motivated by a desire to create change.
“I honestly cannot imagine a life where I don’t serve my community and make life better for those who come after. This is why the Truman Scholarship was so important to me,” Phillips said. “I was also drawn to Truman for its professional development opportunities and vast Truman Scholar network, which includes change agents like Michelle Alexander, Stacey Abrams, Justice Gorsuch, and more.”
According to Phillips, she will choose a graduate school in the fall and pursue her Jurisprudence Degree with her scholarship.
“I plan to pursue a JD to expand my impact in my communities by representing indigent people in court, advising them of their rights, and challenging systemic injustice in the criminal justice system,” she said.
Phillips has earned many other awards and titles including: SEO Law Catalyst Scholar, Frederick Douglass Global Fellow, QuestBridge Scholar, Bonner Scholar, Law and Justice Scholar, Newman Civic Engagement Fellow (2021), Featured on the Today Show’s special about Toni Morrison (2020), Nancy K. Rhoden Memorial Undergraduate Prize (2020), Student Excellence in Community Engagement Award (2020), Toni Morrison Essay Contest Winner (2020), Mvskoke Mvnettvlke Onaya (Youth Visionary) award.