In recent times, the importance of shunning apathy, and responding to social issues with vigor and passion has been widely recognized. Movements like Black Lives Matter and Stop Telling Women to Smile are evidence of the power of the individual within a larger society. This phenomenon has encouraged young college students, like myself, to ask the formidable question, “How can I help?” One response to that question that is usually not considered is to inspire the next generation of college students. While some students are destined to end up in college, many others aren’t. I am in college today in the US solely because I had people who encouraged me every step of the way. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I resented school until I entered Mr. Adeoye’s class. His enthusiasm and encouragement contributed significantly to my interest in continuing my education. With the nonprofit organization, Citizen Schools, I was able to do the same for middle school students at the Bronx Writing Academy. It was a very fulfilling experience to say the least.
I encourage college students to get out there and invest in the next generation. If for no other reason than for the fact that education is a protective factor from drug abuse. A 2012 peer-reviewed study in Sri Lanka found a direct correlation between drug abuse and education level. Even closer to home is the statistical analysis done by the Idaho State Police Department that uncovered that illicit drug use is more prevalent among adults without a high school diploma. We cannot deny the connection between drug abuse, lack of education and poverty. I mention poverty because it is increasingly difficult to get a good education in low-income neighborhoods. Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District was hit with a lawsuit for gross misappropriation of school funds. How can high-need students get the education they deserve if funds that are meant to ensure that they have qualified teachers and adequate resources are redirected somewhere else?
If we therefore ascertain that poverty is a risk factor for low educational level, and education is a protective factor for drug abuse, it is no surprise that poverty-stricken areas have higher drug abuse rates. At a base level it is easy for citizens to think “This has nothing to do with me, I cannot right the wrongs of someone else”. This is however the age-old apathetic way of viewing things. In the famous words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
Critics of higher education might argue that a college education doesn’t necessarily ensure a job. However, I believe that a college education gives one a fighting chance in an ever-evolving world. The realization that education is the key to empowerment is crucial and we must all contribute to training the next generation.
Last semester, I ventured out of my comfort zone and enrolled in a Service Project class. At first, it was a placeholder while I searched for another elective that piqued that interest. The longer I stuck with the class, the more I realized that I had a voice, one that deserved to be heard. Even more importantly I found that I was in a unique position to cater to and speak for the voiceless.
One of the service initiatives we delved into as a class was the Senior Legacy Project. In collaboration with the Let’s Talk Safety nonprofit organization, we strove to document the stories of senior citizens in Harlem. Our aim was to decipher the evolution of Harlem as a community through the stories of these seniors.
I interviewed Ed Davis as part of the NYIT’s Harlem Legacy Project and it was refreshing to learn that he devoted 28 years of his life to educating the next generation. Growing up in Harlem without male mentors, Ed made it his aim to not only get an education but also return to his neighborhood to make a difference. He served as a teacher for many years on the very same block that he grew up. During his interview, Ed honed in on the importance of remembering where we’re from and helping others up. Where are you from and who have you helped recently besides yourself?