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YALI REFLECTION: "Mature, Fierce and Passionate" Youth Leave an Impression

Twenty-five young African professionals have spent the last six weeks journeying through a business institute directed by the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. In that time, the Farley Center and Northwestern’s Program of African Studies guided them through an academic seminar, community service projects, cultural and civic and site visits Evanston and Chicago. In this blog series, some of our fellows share their highlights from their time with us and what lessons they’ll take back home and build on in the future.

Adrienne AndriantsialoninaWe often say that age is just a number. I like that saying, not because I have any problem with my age, rather because I believe that the four-digit-number at the end of our birthdate is not enough to make an accurate statement about our maturity or level of responsibility. People are just too complex. This concept of age/maturity took a whole new dimension after my experience with the teens at After School Matters. That was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had.

As part of our program, we had the opportunity to mentor teenagers through programs with After School Matters, a non-profit dedicated to providing innovative and developmental out-of-school programs to teens around Chicago. The tasks were simple: we had to help them build a strong résumé and then mock-interview them. Each of us 25 fellows got to work with one or more mentees from the program.

Our first day with them, we worked with Global Girls, a non-profit on the south side of Chicago. For the résumé part, I was with a 14-year-old girl called Shacorri who simply amazed me with her passion and her enthusiasm. She has clearly identified that her career goal is to become a neurologist. Then, she went on to explain to me different components of a neurologist’s job and how valuable it is to humanity. As she was talking, her eyes and face literally lit up. We started working on the résumé, and the second positive shock of the day came: she had one of the longest lists of volunteer works I have seen in my whole life. She volunteers at her local hospital to comb sick children’s hair and play with them or tell them stories. She also volunteers at places that serve food to the needy. She cooks for some elderly associations, and she is very active at After School Matters. She reminded me of something that day: there will always be a reason for not reaching out to others: too young/old, too busy, not enough money, etc. The things that we do, however, do not have to be on a large scale and so do not require a lot of resources. It just requires us to truly care. Our smallest deeds can mean great things to some people out there.

Fast forward to the second experience with After School Matters. This time, we worked on the west side of city with Move Me Soul, a non-profit that trains teens in various forms of dance and college readiness. Same program, same tasks, but different kids. Here, it was the mock job interview that blew my mind. Having worked as a teacher for over 17 years, I have had the occasion to mock-interview many people, but I have never had any experience like the one I had that day with 15-year-old Bryonna. She was natural, comfortable and smiling all throughout the interview. She showcased maturity and spontaneity that more than half of the grown-ups I know do not have. At her age, she can manage all aspects of her life: she plans (and pays) for her schooling, she sets up her dentist’s appointments, takes care of her younger siblings, helps her mother around the house, and follows her passion at the dance program in collaboration with After School Matters. She had a way to deal with the questions that was so elaborate and so thoughtful that at some point, I forgot that it was a mock interview. The job I interviewed her for was a baby-sitting job, and she was so convincing that at the end, I had to tell her that if it had been a real interview, I would have hired her without any doubt.

When we left, I could not stop thinking about how mature, fierce and passionate these girls were despite their young age. Your age and your origin do not determine who you are. Your passion, your spontaneity, all the effort and energy you put into your dream, that’s what matters.

Yes, age is nothing but a mere number. I will probably never meet these girls again, but they have left an indelible mark on my heart, my vision and my life. 

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