"My parents moved down to Atlanta, Georgia from the D.C. area a few years before I was born. We spent a few years there and then came back up to the area. My Mom is a health practitioner and my father is a teacher, but was trained as a goldsmith. Interesting story, my grandfather was a goldsmith in D.C. He had one of the first black-owned jewelry stores, called Lee Jewelers, on 14th and L St. He then went and opened one in Atlanta. He died of an aneurysm at 45, which always reminded me not to work too hard. My father and uncle trained under him. They tried to teach me, but I never took to it. I was less of a hands on person and more into using my mind to address things like social justice.
"After college, I got a job teaching students advocacy through S.T.E.P Up DC. The idea was to bring youth voices into policy making in this city. In this city, we are used to certain communities dictating the agenda for most of the city. We are trying to change that. For example, a majority of students in SE commute out of SE for school. A lot of students choose to travel around the District for school rather than fight to make their neighborhood schools better. That breaks up a community and has really negative impacts on the surroundings. We help these kids develop their voices and share their words with people who are making the decisions.
"Since starting this work, one thing that I have found difficult is getting people to understand why we need to work to build better neighborhood schools in low-income black and Latino areas. Some people say, 'Well, aren't they just lazy? I mean, we made it. Can't they just get themselves together.' There is lack of understanding between communities in this city. I first saw this when I went away to Morehouse College in Atlanta and came into contact with the wealthier side of black D.C. I met and learned with people who didn’t experience the city the same way I did. People always talk about how D.C. can be a very racially segregated city, but it can even be segregated among people of the same race. I think my main point is that sharing and learning from each other’s experiences is one thing that will bring us together as a city. I learned a lot from those guys I went to school with and I feel they learned a lot from me.
"That makes this work difficult, but as Ella Baker said, 'The struggle is eternal. The tribe increase. Somebody else carries on.' Social justice is a long fight, but there is hope in the fact that you can fight. I get angry driving around town and seeing a lot of the things that go on. But there is hope in seeing how many people, especially youth, want to give back and make this a better place. It's pretty amazing to meet 19 year olds who are thinking about the next generation and want to make life better for them.
"I love building community and interacting with people. I think that one of the things that is really undervalued is the power of other people. I have learned so much from kids and the other people around me. To build a better world, we need to listen and learn from those around us. My lesson from all of this is to always listen and ask good questions. That is the key to everything."
Learn more about S.T.E.P. Up DC here.