It’s a voice that we rarely hear, drowned out by big statements and statistics delivered alongside important aid initiatives. A voice that is ready to work for a better life but is trapped waiting for opportunities that might never reach them. These voices belong to the hundreds of thousands of college-ready youth around the world who might never get a chance to go to university. Catalyst wants to connect these voices to people who might otherwise never hear them. We do this so people understand what it’s like to want an education as well as to let people know why we do what we do.
Our first post is from one of our Catalyst scholars whose voice everyone needs to hear.
5:00 AM: The streets of the South Bronx have become familiar with the song of my feet running all the way to Freeman Street to go to my favorite place: school. My alarm clock has become my mother, waking me up and pushing me out of the door. My Puma backpack is my best friend. To it, I entrust my whole life: my soccer cleats, books, pencils and a flash drive for my videos. This backpack became my pillow and companion while I bounce from house to house.
5:00 AM has become a daily reminder that I’m not defined by my story.
I was born in Africa. By the time I was eight years old, I was abandoned by my father, and I witnessed my mother struggle with health problems, poverty, and an abusive marriage. I juggled between different cities and countries. I was never able to spend more than six months in the same school. I routinely lost everything and could not pursue what I wanted most: school, soccer, and film technology.
By the age of 15, I learned what it meant to be an orphan. An orphan is a child who travels to the United States alone in pursuit of an education. It is having to navigate the streets of New York without knowing English, while simultaneously having to cope with his mother’s death three months after his arrival to the “Big Apple”. It is having to sit on the train with an empty stomach, trying to figure out when his next meal will come.
But before my mother’s death, she left me with a passion that motivated me to not give up. In New York, I was given the resources that my mother and I had been seeking for my entire life. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of school because my mother could not pay the fees. In September 2016, I finally started school in New York, ready to take advantage of every opportunity given to me.
I wake up every day to go to school, with images of the people who died from bullet wounds in my country’s civil war, the millions of people living without electricity, and the young girls living through the same experiences that my mother went through. All of these images come to me at 5 A.M., when I am getting ready to go to a classroom filled with students who only know me as the kid from Africa.
After school, I go to one of my two jobs, where I endure everything that comes with the term “immigrant.” But the discrimination, the mistreatment and the feeling of not belonging have never stopped me from working hard to make the restaurants a better place for my customers and coworkers.
After work, I go to soccer practice and pursue the other passion I brought with me from home. Even though I’m usually tired from school and work, I’m still passionate about performing well for my teammates. At around 10:00 P.M., I walk into my makeshift living room: Starbucks. It is here that I have internet access and can finish my homework. It is the Starbucks employee who encourages me with free drinks and reminders: “One day, all of this work will be worth it.”
My education is the only thing that has never left me. It followed me from city to city, and country to country. It is the only thing that I can truly call my own. College is where my ideas will be born, and a place I will finally be able to call home. Because of this, I believe in my passions; I believe in my dreams; I believe in the power of education.
5:00 AM is the beginning of my journey, the journey I’ve nicknamed, “hope.”