MSA vice presidential candidate Jonathan Segers talks volunteering, family background
“There’s a lot of kids that are told they’re not good enough by their parents, they’re not smart enough, they come from poverty so they won’t be anything, and I’m living proof that that’s not true,” Segers said.
Nov. 09, 2015
Jonathan Segers is a well-known name on campus. Despite having transferred to MU only last year, he has already had an impact on the university and its students.
Segers came to MU after a series of events at Howard University. The university had overspent on the budget for scholarships, cutting off almost 700 students. Segers was one of those students.
“I had to take it for what it was,” he said. “It was hard to let it go.”
He said he then decided to come to MU, his mother’s alma mater, after hearing her stories of her time here. But while some stories were good, some were bad, he said.
“I thought that I wouldn’t see those bad things, you know, the racial tensions that are going on,” he said.
He soon found out that wasn’t the case, he said, and took issue with how racial problems were being handled.
“Getting involved in the Social Justice Committee (of MSA) right off the bat, it kind of showed me that some things are being handled generically,” he said.
Segers has been involved in several different organizations over the past few years, but he lists two as being instrumental in his life: Jumpstart and Missouri Boys State.
Jumpstart, an organization that aims to improve the lives and education of at-risk preschoolers through tutoring, hits home for him, he said.
“Jumpstart is a way to remind those children that you don’t have to be a product of your environment,” he said. “I’m living proof of that.”
Segers said he experienced a series of struggles early in his life.
“I came from a single-parent household,” he said. “My mom, at one point in time, was getting her third master’s degree. She was working also a part time job, a full time job and dealing with my dad and my sister’s dad, two ex-husbands, at the same time.”
The situation worsened when his mother’s health deteriorated.
“My mom had a heart attack and a stroke at the same time when I was in second grade,” he said. “Learning how to take initiative and take charge of situations in second grade kind of prepared me. My obstacles have empowered me and I want to do that with the generation behind us.”
Segers said that he wanted to be a part of the solution for other kids, so he decided to join Jumpstart.
“There’s a lot of kids that are told they’re not good enough by their parents, they’re not smart enough, they come from poverty so they won’t be anything, and I’m living proof that that’s not true,” he said. “I want to spread that message and that love to someone else, because you’re not really doing anything unless you’re the answer to the problems that you see in the world.”
He said the experience of working with Jumpstart has taught him patience and resilience.
“One virtue that I’ve learned with working with someone else’s child is taking a non-biased, non-judgmental look at a person’s situation, because if you don’t know the entire story then you can’t write the book,” he said. “Also the virtue of patience; you know children are children, so it’s really taught me to be resilient and be patient and also have temperance.”
Segers said that he is happy to see the influence he has on the kids.
“I’m just glad that I empower four or five 3-, 4- or 5-year-olds,” he said.
Segers came to Jumpstart in an unusual way. Typically, the organization hires its tutors the spring semester before they start. They are given six weeks of training and team-building activities to best serve the children.
Sometimes, though, tutors might need to leave early due to personal or financial reasons that restrict them from continuing in school. Jumpstart then needs to find a tutor that can jump right in and continue to serve those children.
“It takes a special kind of person to come into that, roll with things and take initiative themselves to get caught up, to get on track with learning and building relationships with the children,” Jumpstart senior site manager Chrissie Dickson said.
Dickson said Segers came in to Jumpstart ready to fill that role.
“He really took it in stride and I remember it being a very positive experience, and lot of laughter in our interactions together,” she said. “He knew he was in it for the right reasons and it was going to take some extra effort but in the end it was so worth it because of the impact he was going to make on the kids.”
Dickson said Segers’ passion extends beyond just one thing.
“I see him academically, I see him with Jumpstart, I see him with his peers and on campus, and in all of those realms, his passion shines through,” she said. “We’ve worked with hundreds of students, and he definitely stands out.”
Missouri Boys State, a program that sends rising high school senior Missouri boys on a weeklong experience to learn about state government, also helped Segers develop this passion, he said. He participated in the summer program for one year as a participant and then as a staff member.
He said the summer program helped him see the importance of compassion and fostered his development as a citizen.
“I was put in arenas with students who had different privileges and things that I was foreign to, but I didn’t take as a threat,” he said. “I gained more knowledge and it taught me not to be judgmental, because you don’t know a person’s story, you don’t know what they’ve been through, and just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean they’re okay on the inside.”
Bryan Arri, a friend and fellow staff member at Boys State, described Segers as exciting, focused, determined, honest and passionate.
“Working with Jonathan, I got to see him mentor and work with some of these citizens,” he said. “Whenever he was working with the citizens, he always found a way to empower them and push them beyond where their potential lay.”
Segers calls himself fireproof, he said, because he has been through so much in his life but has not let it define him. He emphasized the importance of the control an individual can have in shaping their own story.
“I feel like every moment in life, whether it be good or bad, is a lesson,” he said. “If you choose to learn from it, then I feel like you come out greater. If you ignore that it happened, then you missed a chance to learn something about yourself or the world around you or another person.”
Segers emphasized the importance of time and how it can pass so quickly.
“What defines you as a person is what you do in the time that you do have,” he said. “So, just make everything that you do count, make it count.”