In the fall of 2020, when I was a senior at Boston’s English High School, I received an email about the COVID Youth Commission (CYC), a program of Hebrew College and The Center for Teen Empowerment to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in our communities. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to work with other teens from across Greater Boston on an urgent issue. But as a Haitian immigrant and an atheist, I didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy and learn about the power of working for healing and change with people from such different walks of life.
Throughout the semester-length program, 26 of us (ages 14-18) met weekly to learn about different aspects of the pandemic and to plan and carry out different activities, including volunteering at food pantries, assembling COVID-19 care kits for homeless shelters and developing advocacy and communication skills. We also created a social media platform on which teens could share their stories about mental health during the pandemic. I was honored to serve as the project manager of the social media marketing campaign.
CYC played a critical role in my life during a very challenging time. In a period of heightened anxiety and depression, and widespread social, educational and political challenges, CYC provided me and my peers with much-needed comfort, support and strength. I also discovered how much I love learning about other people’s stories, including their beliefs, hopes and struggles. In CYC, I found a community of trust, learning and devotion. I also found an amazing mentor and friend in Hebrew College Miller Center director Rabbi Or Rose.
I am now a freshman at Babson College, studying entrepreneurship, and a member of Hebrew College’s Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI), a fellowship for undergraduates with a commitment to interreligious and cross-cultural engagement on their respective campuses. Through this fellowship, I have the opportunity to engage with peers from other universities from the New England area and in our sister city of Charlotte, North Carolina. As part of the BILI fellowship, we converse about current societal challenges, about the history and philosophies of social change and skills to make a difference in solidarity with others.
Over the last year, Hebrew College has helped me grow in different ways and has introduced me to other wonderful people who have supported my academic and professional pursuits. Among the important lessons, CYC and BILI have helped me realize that I want to give back to my community, and that I want to start this with a personal passion: basketball.
Since immigrating from Haiti to the U.S.—what my family calls the “land of opportunity”—in 2013, basketball has meant more than just a game to me. Like a lot of kids in my urban community, basketball has served as a safe haven. It has provided fun, comfort and connection to others, just as CYC and BILI have provided me in the past year. Although I did not have the chance nor the talent to showcase my basketball skills at the highest level, basketball helped me learn so much about hard work, teamwork and how to win and lose more graciously.
This is why I have undertaken a new project to purchase sneakers for the boys’ basketball teams at my alma mater, The English High School. This is a small act, but I think it will make a real difference in the lives of the basketball players. Not only will this help alleviate a financial burden, but the sneaker giveaway will serve as a reminder to these young men that someone cares about them. Further, I think this initiative could make a bigger difference by inspiring others at English High School or those who learn about it through social media to give back to their communities.
So many times, young people I meet from lower socio-economic situations dream of making a difference, wanting to break the chain of intergenerational poverty. However, too often, these bright, caring, entrepreneurial young people do not accomplish their goals because they do not have role models, mentors and older friends who can inspire and guide them to reach their goals. I am a product of the city of Boston, and, as a budding entrepreneur, my mission now and in the future is to support others in the ways that I have been supported by my teachers and mentors. In doing so, I hope to inspire others to give back to their communities and inspire social entrepreneurship.
Make a donation to English High School in support of the sneaker giveaway. Learn more about the Miller Center for Interreligious Leadership & Learning at Hebrew College and its fellowship programs.
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