Protecting American Troops, Afghan Partners, and Human Rights

Chris Purdy ‘09G is passionate about bettering society.

by Demetria Wambia

Chris Purdy speaking at a podium in front of the U.S. Capitol Building

Chris Purdy ’09G leading a press conference of veterans speaking out in support of Afghan refugees.

Chris Purdy ’09G — a Rochester, New York native — has followed a circuitous path to his current position as a nonprofit program director in Atlanta, but each of his positions has had one thing in common: service.

At 19, Purdy joined the National Guard and became a combat engineer. “With a battlefield, there’s fighting back and forth, and a combat engineer’s job is to create a pathway for that fighting to happen or to create barriers,” explains Purdy. From disarming landmines to exploding obstructions, Purdy worked to keep America’s troops safe.

After earning a master’s degree in inclusive education at Nazareth College, Purdy taught in Washington, D.C., and in Spain, eventually landing as an administrator in the Atlanta Public Schools. “Public service is very important to me and my family. My father was a teacher, and I really enjoyed the idea of helping people learn about their history, their country. I wanted to encourage young people to carry on that same drive for social betterment,” says Purdy, whose father also graduated from Nazareth.

Though working in education was fulfilling, Purdy decided it was time for another career pivot. “After [Donald] Trump got elected, I realized that education is important; however, there is a real need for voices to come out and speak up at a national level for communities that were under threat,” says Purdy.

That realization inspired Purdy to get a master’s degree in public affairs and take on his current role as the director of Veterans for American Ideals and Outreach at Human Rights First.

“We organize veterans around the country to advance human rights or related policies, countering white supremacy and violent extremism. We have three different buckets that weave through that,” says Purdy. The three buckets are police demilitarization, violent extremism, and Purdy’s main focus: the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program.

“It’s a very niche immigration law that basically says these folks who were from Afghanistan, who served alongside American forces, are eligible for a pathway to citizenship here in the U.S. However, they've been treated as a political football over the past number of years, and we felt like it's worth advocating for them,” explains Purdy.

Camille Mackler, Truman Center for National Policy fellow and executive director of the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, has worked closely with Purdy and has seen his impact. “Chris' leadership in the months leading up to the collapse of Afghanistan and its aftermath has been extraordinary. He pushed the government to adopt systems and processes that undoubtedly saved thousands of lives,” says Mackler. “He worked individually with families to get them to safety. He was the linchpin that kept our efforts going. And he was unfailingly supportive of each of us as the crisis took its toll. He was always there with a shoulder to lean on or a kind word.”

Purdy says his belief in the team he leads and his conviction to make the world a better place are his motivators. He notes that Afghan immigrants face legal and social obstacles to integration, and “that’s wrong,” he says. “So there is a deep sense of commitment to a set of ideals that keeps me going.”

Demetria Wambia is a New York City-based freelance writer and editor.

Chris Purdy speaking with Congressman John Lewis

Chris Purdy ’09G speaking with his congressman, John Lewis, on the importance of supporting refugees who fought alongside American service members overseas.