Kids from urban neighborhoods in Boston don’t often find themselves at prestigious colleges such as Brown, but Aiyah Josiah-Faeduwor did. He was born in West Virginia, but spent most of his life in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, where almost half of all families earn less than $25,000 a year.
When he got to Brown University, Aiyah quickly realized that he was one of the lucky ones. He had managed to start down a road that few of the kids he grew up with were likely to travel. “My story wasn’t very common among my peers at Brown. And I knew that I wanted to help others like myself.” So he started volunteering – mentoring and tutoring kids from Providence, but it wasn’t as satisfying as he had hoped. At the end of his sophomore year, he learned about Generation Citizen and was inspired by the idea of empowering young people to drive change in their own lives and in the lives of their community members.
Aiyah, along with co-Democracy Coach, Chelsea Hartigan, were matched with a 12th grade class at Jorge Alvarez High School. When Aiyah was in high school, he was in some rough neighborhoods but nothing like this – virtually every student there had been touched by gang violence – they were either in a gang, had a family member who was, or had experienced the violence personally. They were frustrated and ready for change. When Aiyah was their age, he could roam the city and search for new possibilities, but these students were prisoners of violence. They literally could not go anywhere outside a proscribed few blocks because of the rival gangs. The idea leaving the neighborhood, let alone going to college, was completely beyond their imagination.
Working with the teachers at Alvarez and his connections in the Brown community, Aiyah and his students partnered with the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence, which targets the reduction of gang-related violence. The students and the Institute reached out to noted breakdancers in the neighborhood and arranged a school wide presentation. This was an enormous success – it began a meaningful dialogue that had the potential to change the dynamics in the school and neighborhood.
At the time, Aiyah wasn’t sure what his career would be, but his experience with the students at Alvarez helped to set a clear path.
“I knew there were problems but I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I saw that the way Generation Citizen brought in the civic aspect was a huge influence on students. Within six months, we realized that we could bring about real change. If you understand how the system works, you can actually change it. Now I want to be more involved with the political and education policy areas where real change can happen.”
Aiyah is now working as a College Guide at Mt. Pleasant High School – a program Sponsored by AmeriCorps. If he chooses to finish the year long commitment and not take the optional second year at Mt. Pleasant, he plans to get experience in other areas of policy before pursuing a Masters in Public Policy.
Generation Citizen looks forward to hearing the stories of our Democracy Coach alumni – please share with us on Facebook how you are continuing to empower young people and drive change in your community!