Jennifer N. Hawkins
Jennifer N. Hawkins

Leading Lady

If all the world’s a stage, Jennifer N. Hawkins has spent more time on it than most to date. This
By Jennifer A. Woo

If all the world’s a stage, Jennifer N. Hawkins has spent more time on it than most to date. This Austin, Texas-born senior and Mather House resident has played a leading role in the performing arts scene during her four years at Harvard. While Hawkins has been involved with Expressions, the ’04 Steppers, and BLACKCast, her most intense commitment is her position as a director of CityStep.

“We are a team,” Hawkins says of the five other CityStep directors. “We lead thirty-three teachers. But as a director, you’re supposed to know what to do in sticky situations, maintaining the kids’ focus, keeping them from fighting.”

Hawkins began working with CityStep as a first-year, and taught fifth-graders for her first two years with the program. As a junior, she was asked to direct the program, and has since been constantly occupied helping with choreography and administering the twice-weekly program across three local elementary schools. Hawkins spends about 13 hours a week managing CityStep, but declares that the time has all been worth it—it has been the most fulfilling activity of her college career.

“The kids and the people that I’ve met have been amazing,” Hawkins says. “You put in a lot of time with these people, and you spend a thousand hours a week with kids who sometimes treat you like they hate you. But you build relationships with the kids and fellow undergraduates very quickly.”

Hawkins choreographed and performed with Expressions during her junior fall semester, and is playing the lead role of Preacher in the upcoming BLACKCast performance of James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, opening this week in the Adams Pool Theatre. She has taken an active part in the community of black students at Harvard, chairing the Freshman Black Table in Annenberg as a first-year, and subsequently serving as the publications chair of the Black Students’ Association, and historian of the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW).

“I mainly took a lot of pictures,” Hawkins says of her role as ABHW historian. “Most people tend to know me with a video camera stuck to my hand. I have hundreds of hours of footage of the last few years.”

Hawkins is also a coordinator of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, recruiting high school seniors from her hometown and matching them with undergraduates when they arrive in Cambridge to tour Harvard. She has spoken at a number of national conferences, most recently addressing a January 2002 meeting of Blacks in Government in Washington DC on the topic of leadership.

Dance, however, remains Hawkins’ primary commitment. When asked if she’d had any formal training or experience in choreography and dance, she laughingly replies, “My background is in the dance club, at a party.” She prefers to spend her rare moments of spare time watching movies, listening to music (“I’m a Michael Jackson fanatic”), and hanging out with friends like fellow CityStep director Katie O’Brien ’04.

“Jenn has a magnetic personality, and I’ve always admired the fact that she can be an amazing public speaker and leader, very organized and disciplined, and a very serious intellectual, and yet also Harlem Shake like no other,” says O’Brien. “She’s never afraid to have fun and be silly, and I think it’s that accessibility, more than just her accomplishments, that makes her so wonderful.”

Hawkins is currently finishing her thesis in economics on black self-employment, and has considered post-graduation plans of working on the 2004 Bush presidential campaign, joining Teach for America and applying to law school. She is hoping to squeeze in some time to “just sleep and relax,” but admits that it’s not always easy for her to drop everything on a whim.

“I jump into one thing after another,” Hawkins says. “It’s just how I am.”