A Promise Realized: What I Learned as an America’s Promise Youth Trustee Header

Opinion

A Promise Realized: What I Learned as an America’s Promise Youth Trustee

 

America’s Promise Alliance is looking for two young leaders to serve in highly visible roles in the leadership of our organization. Interested in learning more? Read about Ola’s experience as a youth trustee and apply by May 6.

Often times, it’s older adults speaking about what’s best for young people. But America’s Promise passes the torch to youth for us to decide what’s best for our future.

It was two years ago, but it feels like just yesterday when I started working with America’s Promise Alliance as a Youth Trustee.

I saw the application on social media and read about the organization’s mission to reduce the nation’s high school drop out rate. I learned about their five promises to young Americans that they will grow up with the help and guidance of caring adult relationships, healthy childhoods, safe surroundings, effective education and opportunities to serve others.

A few weeks later, I learned that I was selected as a finalist, which meant that I had a group interview over the phone with other candidates. We were asked a series of questions about the current state of education in America, and the discussion led to familiar ideas about the importance of having a college education and creating paths to higher education.

And then I said something I wasn’t sure I should have: “If you’re a young person in America struggling to feed your family, how can you imagine paying $50 for a college application fee, let alone thousands for college tuition?”

My fellow finalists on the call quickly disagreed with me and dismissed my comments as strange and misguided. I was sure I blew the interview and lost an opportunity of a lifetime for daring to speak my mind and voice an opinion different from the mainstream.

I was pleasantly mistaken.

I received a call a few days later informing me that I’d been selected as a trustee and would join a  group comprised of national leaders from all sectors who shape America’s Promise Alliance strategies, champion its initiatives and advise its Board of Directors.

As a Youth Trustee, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the organization’s vision of high school graduation for all young people begin to come to life. And I’ve had the ability to help create and contribute to nationwide initiatives by Alliance partners that help surround young people with supportive relationships.

In taking on the role, I made two of my own promises. First, I promised to be a voice for young people and provide a realistic view of the many problems that bar millennials from completing high school. Often times, it’s older adults speaking about what’s best for young people. But America’s Promise passes the torch to youth for us to decide what’s best for our future.

I would soon take part in meetings with some of the greatest education and nonprofit leaders on the cutting edge of transforming public education for the better. They are fighting for the lives, vitality and personal growth of millions of students.

The beauty of it all? They recognized the link between poverty, education and opportunity, and they began drafting and implementing solutions in different parts of the United States. Some of the organizations created trade and certification programs for students who needed to join the workforce to support their families instead of attending college. Others created tutoring programs and began engaging parents, community leaders and teachers in the conversation about how to keep kids in school.

The second promise I made was to take what I learned and change my community for the better. I learned about groundbreaking research on the school-to-prison pipeline. I learned that we need more caring adults in the lives of young people, particularly those growing up in challenging circumstances. I learned that we should not take the power of relationships for granted.

While at America’s Promise Alliance, I was inspired to expand a nonprofit I started in college called Project ASCEND. We raise money for college scholarships for disabled and low-income youth living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

My friends and colleagues at America’s Promise helped me raise $10,000 for scholarships. My work as a Youth Trustee gave me the power to write and speak out about the difficulties I faced in the public education system as student living with multiple disabilities. They helped me become a true champion for education, telling my story in op-eds for CNN and the Huffington Post. They helped inspire me to demand reparative action for crumbling public school systems across the United States.

America’s Promise taught me the greatest asset a young person can have is an education. They taught me to pass what I learn on to others. While it often goes unnoticed and unappreciated, I know what they do changes lives. It changed mine. My teachers—in school and at America’s Promise—did more than educate me. They taught me how to lead.

I’ve learned so much by just watching the passion and fervor of the staff members at America’s Promise, who have taught me that the way to create a brighter tomorrow for all our nation’s youth is for all of us to join together – students, teachers, counselors, medical professionals, clergy, nonprofits, business leaders, policymakers, everyday mentors. It takes all of us to create opportunity and to help each and every child survive life’s obstacles.

I’m just one of the millions of kids they’ve helped. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned through my experience with America’s Promise, and I’m keeping my own promise to continue to use what I’ve learn to change the world.