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Urban Alliance D.C. concludes the program year with UA's final Public Speaking Challenge of 2018

Around 100 recent high school graduates from Washington, D.C. shared what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as participants in Urban Alliance’s High School Internship Program (HSIP) for underserved youth at the region’s 2018 Public Speaking Challenge.

Khadijah Gikeneh, a 2018 graduate of Frank W. Ballou Senior High School, was the event’s featured student speaker. “Urban Alliance has given me an amazing opportunity to jump start on a plan I have created for my future,” Gikeneh said.

Growing up east of the Anacostia River was difficult, Gikeneh said: “There were times growing up where I felt like I was at rock bottom and I didn’t have much hope.” Her experience inspired her to pursue a future career as a social worker, to one day become the support and listening ear for others that she didn’t have growing up. Through Urban Alliance, Gikeneh was able to work at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), where she got a head start on her future career with firsthand experience in community wellness work. “There is so much love and genuine care at the youth center that it feels like a home for everyone, including me,” Gikeneh said. “My transition out from LAYC to Morgan State University is going to be an emotional one because of the bonds I’ve been able to create and how much I’ve been able to learn. I hope to one day have an impact on the lives of youth in my community and help rebuild my D.C., just like LAYC does every day. Once again, I would like to thank Urban Alliance and the Latin American Youth Center for being a part of my story.”

2018 Eastern Senior High School graduate Dearra Hart, who interned at Cunningham Levy Muse through Urban Alliance was awarded an $8,000 Muriel Maignan Wilkins Family Scholarship for her outstanding performance throughout the year. “I have learned and valued the importance of expanding my knowledge and never being afraid to pursue other interests,” Hart said of her time with Urban Alliance. “The relationships I built provided me with guidance and advice that I will forever carry throughout my career. Urban Alliance taught me skills including consistency, networking, and communicating to prepare me for any professional setting. Most importantly, I have represented and proven that minority groups including African-American young women are capable of advocating and contributing to issues important to them.”

In addition, six other students were awarded scholarships for going above and beyond during the year:

  • Jilani Sutton (Woodrow Wilson High School ’18; interned at Vox Media) was awarded a $5,000 Wilkins Family Scholarship
  • Michael Olugbuyi (IDEA Public Charter School ’18; UA intern at Life Pieces to Masterpieces) was awarded a $2,000 Wilkins Family Scholarship
  • Marje Hines (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School ’18; interned at Children’s National Health System) was awarded a $1,000 Intern Excellence Award scholarship
  • Brittney Maharaj (Woodrow Wilson High School ’18; interned at NASA) was awarded a $1,000 Intern Excellence Award scholarship
  • Brenna Ratiff (Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School ’18; interned at the Natural Resources Defense Council) was awarded a $1,000 Intern Excellence Award scholarship
  • Jashea Robinson (KIPP D.C. College Preparatory Campus ’18; interned at The Grassroot Project) was awarded a $1,000 Intern Excellence Award scholarship

The workplace mentors who supported the students throughout their internships were also celebrated at today’s event. 2018 Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School graduate Artana Anderson and 2018 KIPP D.C. College Preparatory Campus graduate Jashea Robinson  presented their mentor at The Grassroot Project – Sahaan Sozhamannan – with the Mentor of the Year Award.

“We all know that first impressions are lasting impressions and our first impression of our mentor was a guy wearing a big sweater and khakis, but he is much more than that. Little did we know, this man would have one of the greatest impacts on our lives,” Robinson said. “He has definitely helped me transform into a better me, and I want to thank him for that.”

Added Anderson: “He cared. I have dealt with anxiety all my life and he was there to listen and give feedback, and it is because of him that for the first time in my life I have felt relieved. Thanks to his support I have less social struggles and I am comfortable enough to be up here sharing my experience … He has always been an advocate for Jashea and I, and always will be. Sahaan deserves this Mentor of the Year award because he has seen the potential in us when we didn’t see it in ourselves. His passion runs deep and the world needs more people like him.”

Urban Alliance has been serving students in Washington, D.C. since 1996.