ATLANTA — Presidential Scholar Sa’Real McRae channeled her love of reading and her passion for social change into action in the summer of 2020 by forming a nonprofit organization called Restorative Reading. The grassroots organization collects books to donate to juvenile detention centers.
“Reading can take you to different places,” McRae said. “As a child, I used reading as an escape.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she held her book drive at a public park and asked people to bring books to donate. “So many people came up. People that were already at the park actually left and came back with books,” she said.
Her hope is that the reading program can lower recidivism rates and offer youth the opportunity for rehabilitation that is often missing in the criminal justice system.
McRae has always been interested in criminal justice but questions the effectiveness of our current system.
“The systems we have in place do little to deter or mitigate crime,” she said.
After reading Angela Y. Davis’ book “Are Prisons Obsolete?” in high school, McRae was inspired to study sociology as an undergraduate on her way to earning a law degree and becoming a public defender.
“I want to help those who need it the most,” McRae said. “People lack resources and that’s a reason why they keep going back to prison. They lack resources, and they don’t have proper representation. So, I want to be that proper representation for people who can’t afford it.”
Before attending Georgia State, McRae completed an internship with the Federal Defender Program through the Atlanta Bar Association. Working 40 hours per week, McRae and her fellow participants got practical training on things like how to build reports and file documents.
“Working at the Federal Defender Program was an amazing experience,” she said. “I got to go to court for the first time, and I got to sit and hear people’s stories.”
McRae has been fighting for social change from a young age.
“My mom said I came into this world screaming, and I haven’t stopped since,” she said. “I always believed that we create change. We uphold systems that are in place, and we have the power to change them.”
To learn more about the Presidential Scholarship, visit honors.gsu.edu/the-presidential-scholarship. Students can now apply to both the Stamps and Presidential scholarships, the university’s premiere academic awards, with one application.