by Kody Klein, Published September 05, 2012
Community has always been important to Matthew Norfleet. His mother made sure of that.
"When I was little, my mom used to make my brother, my sister and me volunteer with the older folks," he says. "Over time, as I became older, I began to really appreciate it. I developed an appreciation for service and being able to help people."
Norfleet took those ideals and began applying them as an adult. For a while, he worked as a foreclosure prevention specialist in his hometown of Romulus.
"Seeing people who were literally on the brink of losing everything that they had gained and worked a lot of their life for, it's a picture you don't forget," he says.
But when he transferred to Eastern Michigan University from Henry Ford Community College, Norfleet didn't have any interest in the campus community.
"I wanted to hit campus and do what I needed to do and then leave," he says.
Eventually, that changed as he noticed something special about EMU. Norfleet started to feel a connection with the students, faculty and staff.
"The faculty actually care about you," he says. "Eventually I found myself a lot more active. That came with a phone call I received on Valentine's Day."
The phone call was from then-president of student government Jelani McGadney, who knew that Norfleet had been an intern in Washington D.C., and hoped that he would serve on student government's political action committee.
The decision was a no-brainer for Norfleet. "This is something that I always liked to watch and study," he told himself. "Why not apply those same skills and knowledge and potential to a place that's become so central to what my life is now?"
EMU had become more to Norfleet than a place to hit and leave.
"This is where I study. This is where I eat. I live six blocks from here," he says. "So why not apply those same concepts of community service here?"
As soon as Norfleet accepted Jelani's offer, he found himself busy. The ambitious Rock the Vote event was only a month away and it was largely Norfleet's responsibility to make sure it went well.
While he was planning the program two significant events happened. First, he met Desmond Miller, an inspiring freshman senator who "was really active and really engaged, and who really believed in the work he was doing." Second, he learned that Jelani's term as student government president was about to end.
Having come to care deeply about the EMU community, Norfleet says he thought to himself, "This is an opportunity that I could take and amplify the voice of students like me-students who, when they came here, weren't passionate about being involved."
He enlisted his new friend Miller as his running mate. After several weeks of campaigning, it was announced on March 30 that they had won the election.
They didn't waste any time. The fall semester hasn't even started, but Norfleet and Miller are already working toward many of the goals they set when they first drafted their campaign platform. They have successfully lobbied to have the ground floor of Halle Library open 24 hours a day, an administrative concession long requested by students. They've drafted a budget proposal for an unlimited student bus pass that would be funded by a fee of 93 cents per credit hour.
Moreover, they're actively seeking to empower students. They ran on a platform that promised "student town halls," open forums during which students could question student government representatives and hold them accountable. True to their promises, the first meeting is scheduled for September 19. Norfleet has also arranged for EMU to take part in TurboVote, which he says "makes voting as easy as renting a Netflix DVD."
"Any student will be able to go to emich.turbovote.org and sign up for text message alerts and emails that will remind students about every election from local to national," he says. "You'll be able to get information with your local precinct, where you're supposed to go and when, in addition to text message alerts. Students will also be able to request voter registration forms or even absentee ballots."
Norfleet sees himself more as a representative than a politician. "When someone says the word 'politician,' you visualize someone standing atop a soap box yelling for the sake of yelling. When someone is your representative, that means that they're representing your interests. That's the philosophy I take."