Story 7 of 20: Be the Role Model by Lisa Bilal

I was the outspoken young girl who knew there was more to see outside my neighborhood (North Lawndale), but never had the opportunity to get out to see what was there. I was a good student. I always did my work and performed to the best of my ability. I knew about college, but did not know what it took to get there—I was the first in my family to go to college. I just knew that I wanted to go, and I worked hard academically to ensure I would be able to go.

I knew that college was in store for me.

As a little girl, I dreamed of being a lawyer, and I knew the only way to get there was to go to college. While in elementary school and high school, teachers and staff made it a point to tell me that I would go to college and they encouraged me to do my best. I believe it was Umoja, however, that gave me the opportunity to see outside of my neighborhood. 

With Umoja, I would explore different colleges while on college tours. The “Women in Destiny” lunch program allowed me to engage in discussions that I do not think I would have had had I not been involved with Umoja. I believe Umoja allowed me to explore more of myself. They allowed me to question my identity when it came to me being an African American woman from the west side of Chicago. 

I did not have to settle on being just an African American woman from the west side, but that I could add more to my narrative. 

196149_4985716186_8299_n.jpgMs. Sayers, Jacare Thomas, Simone Woods, and Easter Young showed me what real mentors were and encouraged me to go after all my dreams. Their faith in me and who I would become was and still is appreciated. They empowered me even when I couldn’t do it for myself (i.e. applying for the Protiviti scholarship). Now as I seek out others who will be mentors or role models in my life, I make sure they portray some of the same qualities that Ms. Sayers, Jacare, Simone, and Easter had. I actually attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) because of Jacare. He was an alumnus and when we toured the campus, I fell in love with it. Jacare also motivated me to stay at UIUC during my senior year. It was him and Sharon Lindstrom (Umoja Board Member) who I talked to about continuing my studies at UIUC after being placed on academic probation my first semester. They both encouraged me to stick it out, gave me advice on what I needed to do to be successful my second semester, and were there for me when I cried and pushed through. I attribute a lot to Umoja. It was their belief in me that allowed me to believe in myself. 

As a former Academic Advisor, I would advise high school students to believe in themselves and their dreams. Join student organizations, get involved in things outside of their school, give back to their neighborhood, take the ACT/SAT seriously, explore colleges and universities, take advantage of all the resources that they can and seek and ask questions to find out about the ones they know nothing about. 

I would tell them to surround themselves with like-minded people who will push them to be a better person, who will motivate them and encourage them. I would tell them to always be themselves, but also be open to growth. 

Be the person they want as a role model so that they, too, can be a role model. 

I would tell them that college is not easy. It is not the same as high school. It is going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to get through. Do not be afraid to ask questions and to ask for help. Apply to as many scholarships as possible. I would tell them to be open to change. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, but life experiences gave me new opportunities to discover.

Lastly, I would tell them to not be afraid of failure. I failed academically my first semester at UIUC, but I did not give up. That is an experience I learned and grew from. That is what failure teaches us. 

IMG_9060.JPGI am still an African American woman from the west side; yet, I have added a lot more to my narrative. I am a two-time graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Bachelors in Communications and Masters in Education, Policy, Organization, and Leadership). I am currently working on my second Masters in Social Work at UIUC. I was an Academic Advisor at UIC for four and a half years and I currently work for the United States Military Entrance Processing Command. I am a military wife, a mother of two beautiful girls, and one of the founders of a non-profit organization called P.O.W.3.R. 

I am who I want my children to look up to.