Summer Youth Initiative alum Ja’Nel Jamerson has always known he wanted to make a difference in young peoples’ lives. For a long time, he believed he would do so by becoming a teacher.
“I had been working with young people in a structured setting,” says Jamerson. “I thought, ‘Man, if I could do this full time, every single day, I could make a real difference.’”
But his life took a different path. During his senior year of high school at Flint Southwestern Academy, Jamerson participated in a co-op program that allowed him to work at the University of Michigan-Flint as an office assistant in the Educational Opportunity Initiatives office. After graduation, he was able to continue working.
He was promoted a few times and eventually accepted the position of Assistant Program Manager for pre-college programs, which changed his perspective on how he could help students.
“What I learned most through my work in pre-college programs is that gaps exist in the traditional school system,” says Jamerson. “That is what I want to do with my life. I want to build holistic systems focused on the well-being of children and their families together.”
Today, Jamerson is the executive director of the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network.
I greatly underestimated the depth of professional work experiences I had before entering the workforce. By the time I graduated college I had six years of experience. SYI created a safe space where I could learn from my mistakes. At first, I underestimated the value of these experiences, now, I see the value daily. I still use the lessons I learned and the connections created through SYI in my work today.
One of my mentors talks about the concept of recitals, a moment to validate the good work you are doing. I am fortunate to have had a number of recitals. Every moment that I see someone who I have served be better-off is a recital for me and one of my proudest moments.
I am currently pursuing an education specialist degree in curriculum leadership, then I plan to pursue my doctorate in education. I think it is important to continue to build my expertise so that I am best able to respond to pervasive challenges in the education system.
When I was in school I had a strong school leader, great teachers, and the support of responsive community-based programs like SYI. The system that existed then was instrumental in my ability to succeed. But that isn’t a rote system and not everyone has access to that system. Ensuring that every kid has a fair chance at reaching their greatest potential is most important to me.
The smartest people, in my opinion, are the people who acknowledge the unknown and yet embrace it bravely. My advice to current students would be to pursue your dreams unapologetically. It doesn’t matter what it is – really go after it, now. If you are committed to the what the how will become clear.
TeenQuest and Summer Youth Initiative are made possible through the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
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