ATLANTA — The Woodruff, Whitehead and Evans Foundations have named recent Georgia State University Honors College graduate Litzy Perez (B.S. ’22) as their 2023-24 Fellow.
The yearlong fellowship is an opportunity to gain experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in Atlanta while working closely with staff of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, Lettie Pate Evans Foundation and Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation. The Foundations distribute more than $400 million annually to nonprofit organizations in Atlanta, throughout Georgia and around the Southeast.
Perez graduated in the fall of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Chinese Language and Culture. She will attend law school when she completes her fellowship and plans to become a public defender.
“A J.D. can be so powerful, but you have to know how to use that power. I feel like this fellowship is a great opportunity to broaden my perspective on social issues in Atlanta,” Perez said.
As a student, Perez volunteered for Meals on Wheels, Panther’s Pantry and the Latin American Student Association. She was invited to be a speaker at the Latino Youth Leadership Conference, an event she previously attended when she was 12 years old.
“If this fellowship can help me find a way to make things easier for others like me, I would love nothing more,” she said.
Marc Reyes, the coordinator of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, encouraged Perez to apply for the fellowship.
“Litzy is confident in who she is and what she wants to do with her life. She wants a career helping people and knows there are many ways for her to help others in need,” he said.
Before beginning her fellowship, Perez will spend two months in Taiwan as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. She began studying Mandarin in high school and quickly fell in love with the language. She took every class offered at her high school and at Georgia State but was never able to participate in study abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m so honored that I get to do both. The Foundations were very understanding with this opportunity, and I can’t thank them enough for that,” she said.
Perez sees her language skills as an important part of being able to connect and effectively communicate with clients who may have limited English proficiency. Working as an intern, she sometimes observed interactions in court where defendants struggled to communicate with their attorney.
“It really opened my eyes to the lack of multilingualism in the courtroom. Because Mandarin is one of the most common spoken languages in the world, I think it’s critical to learn that language,” Perez said.
One day, while observing in court, there was an unexpected need for a Spanish translator. Perez was able to help translate a woman’s conditions of parole for her.
“If you don’t understand your own conditions of parole, you could violate something you don’t even know about,” Perez explained.
“I was able to translate and ask the questions that she wanted answered,” Perez said. That experience spoke to her original interest in studying criminal justice.
“I’m motivated to fight to keep families together and fight to protect people’s rights, especially when people may not know what their rights are.”