August 27, 2015 | by Jasmine Baker

Reflection on Summer with Umoja

IMG_1106.JPGMy relationship with Umoja started when I was in eighth grade. At the time my older sister was a senior at Manley Career Academy and was involved in Umoja’s Upward Bound program. Through Upward Bound she attended college tours and participated in workshops that prepared her for college.

After seeing my sister prepare for college and be excited about it, I knew I wanted to be in Upward Bound so I could have the same experience. As a result, I got involved with Umoja’s Upward Bound program during my sophomore year of high school at Manley Career Academy. The program gave me the opportunity to attend two college tours, become a mentor to several students, and learn about requirements for college. It also supported me in choosing a college that best suited me.

In June of 2014 I graduated from Manley Career Academy and decided to attend Agnes Scott College located in Decatur, Georgia. Towards the end of my first year of college I started looking for a summer internship and stumbled upon the Umoja Development Internship via the Umoja Alum Facebook page. As soon as I saw the internship I knew I wanted to apply because I wanted to help Umoja give back to others in the ways that they gave back to me. Now as my internship comes to a close I am even more grateful for Umoja because I’ve been able to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes. In my short time here I’ve completed several tasks that have exposed me to new experiences and enhanced my skills. Some of the tasks I’ve completed include participating in a Restorative Justice video skit, organizing database information, providing support for Umoja University, researching funding opportunities, and conducting interviews. My Umoja internship has left me with a greater outlook on life and a new perspective.

As a recent graduate of Manley Career Academy I remember feeling like the education system was unfair to me and my peers (as a lower level school) because we weren't offered the same opportunities that upper level schools received.  In addition to Manley being a low performing school I felt like students were divided by honors and AP classes versus regular classes. Overtime there were more students in honors classes who were willing to have a post-secondary plan rather than students in regular classes. I started to believe that some students were given opportunities that others weren't. I was so frustrated that I ended up having a conversation with one of my favorite teachers (Ms.Hollic) about equal educational opportunities for all students. I mentioned that if we were all offered the same opportunities then we would all want the same things. She responded, “it's more than that”. I remember sitting there shocked until she further explained that we were all offered the same opportunities (college tours, tutors, Upward Bound, etc.), but these opportunities “started” somewhere else. As she continued to elaborate on her previous statement I zoned out as she mentioned words like family, friends, and community. For me, academics was at the core of the conversation. I didn’t understand the importance of all these other influences in my life.  

Before I attended Umoja University I never took the time to reflect and think about how people have shaped my life. It wasn't until I attended the trauma informed workshop at Umoja University that I finally understood what Ms. Holic was trying to say to me. In the workshop the first question we were asked was “Who has been an important adult in your life?” After I wrote down several names I started to realize that each of these adults helped shape me into the human being I am today. The adults that supported me in my high school years were the same people who taught me about respect, the world, and relationships. Through their love I discovered my passions and acknowledged my dreams. They taught me what it was to be dedicated, how to work hard and how to reach success.

The trauma informed workshop made me realize how positive adults pave the way for students and their future. Terms like success, hard work, and dedication are like vegetables: you know they're good for you, but they can be hard to swallow, and easy to neglect. However, when you add seasoning and toppings to your vegetables, they become more appetizing. I believe that amazing teachers, parents, and staff are the “seasoning” to the “vegetables.” It truly takes good people to make scary things like college and postsecondary plans appear to be amazing and beneficial to students.

It takes multiple people to help heal, inspire, and guide one person. As a result, the importance of caring teachers and staff are invaluable. As a non-profit organization, Umoja helps amazing staff and parents work with students, on academic and personal levels, in order to help them acquire their dreams. From my internship with Umoja I’ve learned that the cycle of giving back never stops. As human beings we need to constantly help each other learn, grow, and thrive. Consequently, I will continue to help others strive for their dreams as I continue to strive for mine.