Courtney McClain, a fourth-year broadcast journalism student, spends her time writing, giving speeches, attending rallies and speaking with families and attorneys. She said her motivation is to always do things "for the people."
As the chair of the advocacy and policy committee for the National NAACP Youth and College Division, chairwoman of the Inclusion and Equity Committee in student senate and executive chair of the Student Government Equity Task Force, she seeks to make campus feel more inclusive to minority students.
"I think a lot of time, people kind of fail to realize that diversity isn't just race. It's also religious minorities, disabled students, LGBTQ+ students," McClain said. "I think we should also look outside of the racial lens and see the other marginalized groups that are also kind of being looked over."
Originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina, McClain said she was drawn to USC by the journalism program. As a freshman, she hoped to secure a career in political correspondence at CNN, but she has since decided she wants to run for the Fourth Congressional District when she's old enough in 2028.
In September, she became the youngest Black woman to start a lobbyist group after noticing that there were not many younger or minority lobbyists. She said the goal of her group is to increase the amount of youth and minorities influencing legislation.
The group will focus on gun reform and gun violence prevention, women's reproductive rights, the abolition of the death penalty, prison reform and hate crime legislation starting in the 2023 General Session.
Although the lobbyist group is currently centered in South Carolina, McClain has plans to bring it to Washington, D.C. and expand it to a national level.
"She’s ambitious, and she’s open about being ambitious, which I think is great, especially for women who have been socialized not to be ambitious," Noah Glasgow, speaker of the student senate, said. "She’s leaving a ladder for people that come after her to climb up as well and teaching them that they can be ambitious."
After three years of activism, McClain has received the 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award, becoming a 2022 James E. Clyburn Fellow and interning with Congresswoman Cori Bush in Washington, D.C.
"She’s been doing this for a really long time," Robert Morris, vice president of the South Carolina NAACP Youth and College Division, said. "She’s really been impacting not just Columbia, not just Spartanburg, but she’s really branching out and starting to impact different areas that she’s not even a part of."
McClain began her activism journey in Spartanburg where she said a sheriff in her hometown had a history of making offensive comments that citizens were getting tired of hearing.
"I was just like, 'We need to do something. We need to finally speak up about this.' And I was saying, 'Well if no one else will do it, then I’ll do it,'" McClain said.
McClain started a petition and prepared a speech to stand up against the remarks the sheriff had made.
"I was kind of seeing like, 'Oh, even though I’m young, I have an impact, and what I’m saying a lot of people agree with,' so I just decided to kind of be that face and be that voice from there on," McClain said.
Now, she is president of the NAACP Youth and College Division, and she meets with each chapter monthly to help them create a plan of action for diversity and equity on campuses state-wide. As president, she said she still sees a lot of room for diversity and equity improvement on South Carolina's campus.
"We do a lot of talking and not a lot of action," McClain said. "We’ve had so many forums and summits and all types of round tables, but where’s the action that’s coming from that? We keep having the dialogue, but where’s the plan of action that’s supposed to come from these conversations?"
Outside of her activism, McClain's friends know her to be optomistic and fun to be around. Her hobbies include going bowling, going to museums and playing Just Dance.
"Courtney is a wonderful leader, not just in terms of movements, but just personally as well to her friends. She always makes sure that we are doing well," Glasgow said. "She’s just a very community-oriented person, and I really appreciate that about her."