Twenty years ago, Ben Allen applied to the Amsterdam Humanity in Action Fellowship from an internet cafe in the Zona Rosa of Mexico City, while studying abroad. Little did he know that the application would take him on a journey that is still continuing twenty years later. Hoping to learn about history, human rights and contemporary political and sociological issues in Europe, Ben took on this adventure.
The Amsterdam Fellowship was especially important to Ben as his ancestors had fled persecution and pogroms in Europe and he hoped to learn how the Dutch society fought back against the Nazi Party and Hitler during the Second World War, or failed to. Ben reflects on his experience, “the stories of European history, World War Two, human rights, immigration, and integration that we studied during Humanity in Action were fascinating, timely, and closely tied to my passions and career and personal interests at the time. It was truly a magical summer for me, and one that influenced my development, my outlook, and my worldview. I spent the summer in the Netherlands, a diverse, beautiful, and fascinating country that prides itself on its commitment to diversity and inclusion. But clouding that is the legacy of the Holocaust and the extraordinarily high percentage of Dutch Jews who were killed during WW2.”
For his Action Project, Ben brought Humanity in Action’s photography collection on the rescue of Danish Jewry to Harvard Hillel and Professor Daniel Goldhagen, who would work to speak and discuss. Ultimately, he aimed to shed light on the deeds the ordinary Danes who risked their lives to save nearly the entirety of their nation’s Jews. For this project, Ben had to coordinate logistics, advertising and aesthetic visions, skills which would prove useful years later during his political campaign.
“I hope the future will hold a vibrant, open, and clean democracy that protects our environment for future generations, respects difference and diversity, prioritizes social uplift for the marginalized, poor, and disadvantaged, and offers true access to opportunity for people of all backgrounds.”
Following the Fellowship, Ben attended graduate school in England and then returned to Washington D.C. where he world work for the Latin American team at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and later as the Communications Director for Congressman Jose Serrano. Ben decided to return to California and pursue law school at UC Berkeley where he would be elected to serve as a student member of the University of California Board of Regents.
“For the past five years, I’ve served in California’s state senate, commuting from Los Angeles to Sacramento on a weekly basis. We’re a full-time legislature that helps to lead California–if we were our own nation, we’d be the world’s fifth-largest economy.”
This was the beginning of his political career in California. Later, when a local California state legislature decided to retire Ben jumped into the race, and after seeking endorsements, pulling together a campaign to reach out to a district the size of one million people, he emerged successfully from a competitive field of eight candidates to win the seat.
Ben continues to work on environmental protection initiatives to reduce single-use plastics, boost recycling, composting and reusing rates as well as political reform efforts in California. “Humanity in Action has been an important part of my life and professional and philosophical identity for literally twenty years now. What started as a magical summer of learning and fun has turned into a lifelong relationship of substance and shared values.”