YCE Newsletter Spotlight

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BILAN MOHAMED

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TASHA TRACY

Interviewed by:  Claire Schroeder

I got to sit down with Tasha and Bilan one week after they finished G2O, here is what I learned from and about them and their experience.

Tell me a little bit about yourself 

 

Tasha: My name is Tasha Tracy. I’m a student at SMCC. I grew up in Portland. I’ve been into community based work since I was a freshman in high school. Most of my community work has been with Portland Empowered’s (PE) Youth Engagement Partners (YEPs). I was a Youth Lead Organizer (YLO) with them as well as was a Youth Planning Team (YPT) member for the New England Youth Leadership Institute (YLI). 

 

My passion is working with youth to dismantle a system of racism within the schools. 

 

Bilan: My name is Bilan Mohamed. I’m a human biology major with a minor in psychology and a potential minor in biochemistry at USM. My involvement in youth organizing started with YEPs and being a  YLO. I was inspired by the work PE did and I wanted to do more.

tasha and Bilan have both been interns with PORTLAND EMPOWERED

Bilan: Because I am a human biology major and a STEM person, I wanted to bridge the gap between science and youth involvement. I’m working to start a group called Melanin in Medicine to create a space for People of Color (POC) to feel empowered and safe to pursue careers in health care while also getting support and resources. 5% of physicians in this country are Black/African American and we need to have more because there’s a lot of health disparities with regards to race. We wanted to uplift POC and create a space where all people can thrive.

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STEPHANIE GERARD

Interviewed by: Shannon Saxby

Kennebec Valley Community College

How are you feeling about going back to school?

I’m feeling nervous and excited about returning to school. I’m studying to be a Respiratory Therapist and I’ll need hands one experience in order to really feel like I’m learning a trade. Like nursing, you can’t learn those skills by remote learning—you need to be able to practice and touch and feel what you’re doing. Everyone learns differently and my learning style requires structure! Working full time as registration in the ER, full time school and remote learning is going to be a challenge because it will not be a structured classroom where I personally learn best.

What differences will you experience at school when you go back?

My classes that would typically be in person will now on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It makes it hard to get into the school mindset when you don’t have somewhere to go to be structured. While in class, we will need to be spaced apart and masked, which is hard when you need to perform lab procedures. The world is still trying to find their footing when it comes to COVID-19 in terms of being masked and safe while still lending a helping hand in healing medicine.

Were you given any choice of how your learning could look?

No. I was hoping that because I am studying a health science my school would have our classes in person—or let us set up in a way to have study groups because my field really relies on the camaraderie of students struggling and learning together. Not saying other professions don’t, but when we do practicums it helps to be able to study an actual human not just a piece of paper--especially because this job requires treating and helping people directly.

If you could make a safe back-to-school plan, what would you include?

I’d include an option for those who need to be physically in school to be successful. This could include a structured area where students could tune into their classes, but feel that mind shift from home to work. For instance, I have a significant other who works from home and we don’t have a space for either of us to work or learn privately without disrupting each other. The wide variety of students makes remote learning difficult. I would include ways to solve those struggles for people who know their learning patterns and who may have fears or reservations about returning to school because it’s not going to be a situation in which they can be successful.

What resources will be important for youth to have access to as they head back to school?

Youth will need internet and help finding a place to study. This may mean renting a bigger apartment or finding somewhere they can be inside to study because winter is coming soon and outdoor seating won’t be available. Youth need their schoolbooks, masks, and someone to help them navigate all these new struggles. I think it’s important they don’t feel as if they have no one when they’re supposed to be surrounded by everyone. It’s important they have access to people who can help them, believe in them, and work through the struggles they may face being remote instead of in person.

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TIFFANI MELIA

Interviewed by: Shannon Saxby

University of Maine at Farmington

 

How are you feeling about going back to school?

I’m feeling very nervous because there are a lot of uncertainties and a lot of things that are not guaranteed this year. Things are much different which is taking some time and effort getting used to. This is my last year of my Bachelor’s Degree so I have a lot of uneasy feelings. I’m not feeling great about any of this, or of the risk of getting COVID-19 at school.

What differences will you experience at school when you go back?

Everyone has to social distance and wear face coverings at all times when on campus-even in the campus gym. There will be less places to gather especially between classes, which is unfortunate. I feel that I will see my friends less and will be less engaged in my education. In addition, most of my classes are online this semester, which is something I feel that I will struggle with, as will my peers. Another difference I’m struggling with is my work-study job has to be adapted due to COVID regulations. I once again may have to search for a job when classes become remote this fall.

Were you given any choice of how your learning could look?

A survey went out to all of the students about what we preferred, but we weren’t necessarily given a choice--ultimately the campus decided for us.

If you could make a safe back-to-school plan what would you include?

This is a difficult question to answer because it’s hard to take into consideration all students and all situations. One thing I am most concerned about is how many students are on campus and how many of those students are from high-risk states. It makes me worried that there will be an outbreak; I don’t know what the solution to this would be, but I wish it was being dealt with better. Also, I hope for mutual support and understanding from my professors. This year is going to be different for everyone and I think professors should be more receptive to difficulties students may face.

What resources will be important for youth to have access to as they head back to school?

Creating a sense of safety will be very important for youth both in grade school and in college. Teachers and professors need to be willing to work with students, give extra time on assignments, work closely with a student based on individual needs and understand that this is a difficult time for everyone. I also think adult supporters (in any form—teachers, YLAT staff, Transition Staff, etc.) should present resources for coping skills during this time and lend extra support to youth who need it.  

Previous interviews with youth and
community partners

ABDUL ALI 

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ABDUL ALI 

Interviewed by:  Claire Schroeder

Abdul Ali is a face you might recognize. He was the emcee at a recent Portland BLM protest and he first came to the stage performing with Maine Inside Out. Ali wears many hats, perhaps too many to name, and among them are YCE initiatives:

Civic & Community Engagement Fellowship (CCEF) – Developing leadership with other people of color. So important to have an opportunity to connect with other youth of color ages 18-30 to discuss issues and challenges. We’re creating a team of youth, like the United Nations.

Young People’s Caucus (YPC) – We talk to legislators and people in power, we connect with decision-makers who sit down and listen, they ask us questions about the work they are doing right now and the bills they are working on. We’re the experts in our experience. It’s a powerful program that we need to make bigger.

There are many sides to Ali, and many different types of work he does, for example:

He’s a full time organizer with Maine Youth Justice. He organizes on behalf of youth previously (and not) incarcerated. He writes op-eds, does press interviews, and shares his unique perspective on youth incarceration. Another side of that work is as a Justice Policy Intern and Opportunity Scholar. He speaks about what it means to be a youth of color, a Muslim, previously incarcerated, and what people need upon being released from a juvenile facility. 

But that’s not all! Ali is a student and a father. He’s currently the artistic director and an actor with Maine Inside Out. He’s involved with Maine Youth Network, a Youth Driven group that offers an Islamic class twice a week, open to everyone. There’s an amazing mentor/teacher who leads the classes.

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SOPHIA DUNTON

Interviewed by:  Cheri Crossman

Thanks to Essential Workers like Sophia Dunton, we can still get our much needed coffee during a difficult time.

 

“It’s not easy to work 40 hours during a pandemic, but without it I would go crazy.” Sophia has been working at Dunkin Donuts for over two years and knows the job well which has helped her adjust so easily to the many new safety requirements and procedures in response to Covid. “We have to wear masks, I don’t know how nurses do it, wearing a mask can feel a little suffocating!  We have to wear gloves and wipe everything down, like the registers, counters, headsets, windows etc., with disinfectant every 30 min’s. I am washing my hands more, not touching my face, and changing my gloves often. Making sure that things are clean, even cleaner than they were before. All of these extra steps and just serving through the drive through with fewer employees is challenging, “I want customers to know we are doing the best we can to get their orders right and as fast as possible.”  Sophia feels confident that she is doing everything she can to prevent herself from getting sick while she also recognizes that she is working with the public so there is some risk.

Sophia is proud of the kindness that people are demonstrating during this time and hopes that once things go back to normal people will continue thoughtful acts such as paying for the orders of cars in front or behind them, “it really helps a long day when you have nice customers who are patient and understanding.”

Where do you work?

Dunkin Donuts, Brewer Maine

How long have you worked here?

I started working when I was 15 through the “Career Compass” and have been at Dunkin Donuts for just about 2 years. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind progressing to become a shift leader, but there are days when it is really hard and I want to quit and find something else to do. It helps when you have nice customers who are patient and understanding.

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JOLIE IRAOYA

Interviewed by:  Pious Ali

Jolie Iraoya is a mother of four boys. They all attend school in Portland, including two in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. Jolie migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Nigeria before coming to the U.S. She speaks four languages and is currently learning American Sign Language (ASL) so she can support and engage her son who has some hearing challenges.

 

I asked Jolie: 

 

What do you want others to know and understand about you and your experience?

“I have migrated twice, first to Nigeria where I didn’t speak any of the local languages, and then to the United States. That experience shaped me and helped me understand how to support myself, my kids and help others in the community. I have learned how to engage the education system and I am helping other new arrivals navigate the system. Just like my mother, people naturally come to me for help and I freely share what I know and support people in whatever way I can.”

 

It is clear how deeply committed Jolie is to being involved in the community. Whether as a volunteer with Preble Street or in the work she’s done as a Lead Parent Organizer with Portland Empowered, Jolie knows the value of giving back. Jolie did not waste time getting involved here in Maine. She arrived in 2018 and found organizations and people that she wanted to learn from and work alongside. She attended Portland Empowered’s Parent Ambassador Program in the fall of 2019 and became a Lead Parent Organizer after that. Jolie’s connection with other organizations has helped her connect others as well, an essential skill of any organizer. Jolie attributes her commitment to helping others and community organizing to her mother who helped others in her community and instilled in Jolie the value of giving back throughout her life. Jolie’s plans for the future include continuing to work to build a strong, vibrant, connected community.

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MIKE MASUDI

Interviewed by: Muntaha Mohamed

Mike Masudi is a youth leader with the Postsecondary Success Project. He recently started a position at TD bank, and he’s worked in Residential Care and in the IT department at Maine Medical Department.

I asked Mike:

What are some of the projects/organizations you’ve been involved with in Maine?

Well, I was done with high school when I came here, but was then sent back to high school because my credentials didn’t fit. Going back to high school and navigating the high school system in the United States was challenging plus I then moved from high school to adult education due to my age. I worked with guidance counselors and Portland Adult Education (PAE) to get my credentials and understand the education process. Once I got my credentials I worked at PAE to develop a learning lab that would focus on students like me, and other non-traditional students to reach their educational goals.

I’ve also had the opportunity to raise my voice and be an active part of society by joining the Post-Secondary Success Project.

Mike spoke about why he stays involved in creating change:

“I’ve been through all the torment of not knowing what to do, especially when it comes to coming to a new country like this one. You are placed in the air, and you don’t know where to put your feet. So I really had to be a part of the breeze, and figure out the connections that I had to make.