Cachavious (Chay) English quoted President Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This quote epitomizes English’s path since graduating from the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in 2003. English is originally from Selma, AL and currently works as the Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Terri Sewell who was elected by Alabama’s 7th District — the same district where English grew up.
After graduating from ASMS, English attended the University of Michigan where he majored in African American studies and minored in Economics. English noted that he arrived on campus when the United States Supreme Court had just ruled against affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions process, and many conversations were occurring around race, diversity, and their importance. He attributes his ability to navigate that experience to his time at ASMS.
“At ASMS, we did not just have easy conversations. We dialogued across issues and navigated tough circumstances together. I was prepared to do the same on my college campus, being comfortable with having those tough conversations and asking the tough questions,” says English.
English also noted that through his time on SGA at ASMS, he caught what he referred to as “the political bug.” From the University of Michigan, English attended law school at The University of Alabama. Upon graduating from law school, Congresswoman Sewell influenced English’s decision to move to Washington D.C. to work with her in public policy. Sewell had just been elected as the first African American Congresswoman from Alabama, and she was one of just nine democratic candidates from across the country elected that year. English described,
“She reminded me that I could be a traditional lawyer at any point in my life. She was offering me an exciting opportunity to do meaningful work on behalf of people I cared about and that I loved. I learned that you can’t say no when you’re called upon for your season of service.”
From working with Congresswoman Sewell, English lobbied for a few years and then later returned as Sewell’s Chief of Staff – a position he has held the last 3 years. Today, English mentioned that he is working for a Member of Congress during an interesting time in political history. His day to day work ranges from executing the Congresswoman’s vision, managing and collaborating with the Congresswoman’s staff, interfacing with leadership, groups, and individuals, and simply just keeping the “trains on the track.”
English talked about how he found his purpose through working in public service and being able to advocate for the people in his district. Yet at the same time, it was not something he had planned from the very beginning. Referencing President Obama’s quote, English said, “The opportunity found me. The moment found me.”
English was also very honest about the demands of his work. “It is exhausting. Sometimes you want to disconnect and unplug, and you should. It is very important to do things that are cathartic and that bring you joy. What matters most though is that I can wake up and feel good about the work I do every day,” says English.
English advised the same for the students at ASMS. He said, “ASMS students are all overachievers. Looking back, my advice to them is to take a deep breath. You are going to be fine. If you’re not good to yourself, you won’t be good to others. So, remember to breathe, sleep, and take care of yourself. You will be prepared. You will be ready to do more than you dream.”
He looks back on his time at ASMS with fondness and recalls many memories, including the fun ones when he flew on a plane for the first time ever with his peers to an SGA conference and the heavy ones where he sat with his peers in the student activity center on 9/11.
To current ASMS students he says, “Take it all in – the good, the bad, the hard. Learn from it. Grow from it. Have hard conversations. Hug someone next to you. Talk with someone you would not talk to normally. These are some of the most formative years of your life. You are surrounded by excellence in all aspects of your environment. Do not take anything for granted.”
English credits ASMS for where he is today. “ASMS set me on a trajectory. I know that whatever I put my mind to is possible. I learned what I can accomplish through hard work and determination and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I was a smart kid at a very smart school, so I had to learn to challenge myself and think outside the box,” says English.
He also shared how ASMS prepared him academically for college, where some of the classes he took in college were ones he had already taken at ASMS. ASMS prepared him socially because he had already experienced the transition to living on his own with a roommate. The teachers and staff genuinely cared about him, but they also challenged him and pushed him. His peers taught him to live and learn in an environment with a diversity of thought and opinions. ASMS showed him opportunities and opened his eyes to what was possible.
“ASMS is more than a school. It’s an experience. Experiences are meant to be embraced for all that they are, and we should allow them to grow and change us,” says English.
Cachavious served as the keynote speaker for the Class of 2020’s virtual graduation ceremony. You can watch his full message here starting at 6:25 and ending at 14:40.