From May 2016 to May 2018, I was a fellow of a program named America Needs You. For many who don’t know, America Needs You is a career development program that advocates for economic mobility for first-generation college students in the United States. ANY is an intensive 2-year program in which 100 selected, and highly ambitious fellows are paired with mentors to attend workshops on Saturdays. At the workshops, students learn about topics that are related to career development including resume writing, managing finances, career and industry exploration, and so much more.
When I came into the ANY program in 2016, I was a shy and timid person who did not know how to make friends, build networks or even initiate and maintain conversations. In many discussions, I found myself falling into that awkward silence and in group discussions, I was holding back my thoughts and ideas out of fear and lack of confidence. Additionally, I had little foundation in implementing my plans to make an impact on my community. Around that time, I had just co-founded Sprinng Literary Movement, resumed blogging and started writing book reviews. I was also a year away from graduating with my Associate's degree at Bronx Community College. I was involved in many clubs on campus, and although I was managing well, I was not extremely effective neither was I maximizing many available opportunities.
Upon joining America Needs You, from the first day that Torin Perez gave a motivational speech through every workshop that the ANY staffs organized, I was inspired to be better. I still remember Torin Perez’s words when he said that, “you can either be the thermostat or a thermometer,” meaning that as a leader, I can choose to set the temperature of the room I walk into or one of those who absorbs the influences in the room. I wanted to be the thermostat, and I wanted to be a leader in places where I was involved. America Needs You was the right place for me to develop leadership skills, increase my network, and build resiliency. At the end of every workshop, even if I was burned out from keeping busy Monday to Saturday, being with over 150 other people including fellows, mentors, and mentor coaches continually gave me this burst of motivation and energy to do something differently or aim higher the next week.
Before being paired with my mentor, Tyler Simpson, I had met her randomly at a resume review workshop. She reviewed my resume, and I loved her approach as she taught me how to present myself on paper better. On “matching day” when mentors officially paired with fellows, I was extremely nervous. The mentors that I had picked for my first and second choices were already assigned to other fellows, and I remember praying desperately to God before I was called to the stage, that it better be Tyler Simpson.
Every day since the matching day, I have been blessed to have Tyler as my mentor. She taught me how to communicate my ideas clearly and effectively. She had high expectations for me and never doubted the crazy aspirations that I had. She is a great role model, and with her accomplishments, I learned to not settle for “less” or “good enough.” Every time I had an achievement, she acknowledged my efforts and ensured that I made plans for whatever was next. The greatest gift that I received was learning how to be a mentor to others. I currently work as a Peer Mentor at Bronx Community College, and I have implemented the knowledge I gained from working with Tyler to assist many students who have become successful. Every time a BCC student comes to share the good news with me about gaining admission or securing a scholarship, in my heart, I consider it as good news for Tyler too, because, without her mentorship, I may not have become as resourceful.
The ANY program and Tyler’s mentorship inspired the Sprinng Literary Movement team members and I, to create the first SLM Mentorship program in January 2018. The 2-week online mentorship program organized by Sprinng Literary Movement that matched 9 established Nigerian writers to 9 developing writers was a success, and the results exceeded many expectations. With the knowledge that I gained from the ANY program, my team and I plan to continue the SLM Mentorship program and expand it to serve more Nigerian writers who hope to develop their skills.
Through the ANY program, I have also established great friendships. Shout out to friends like Terrence who stayed up late to solve math questions with me during my first semester at New York University. Shout out to Mohammed for the encouragements and humor that refresh my energy each week. Shout out to Olalekan, for the educative and eye-opening conversations about topics that are dear to my heart like feminism and mental health in Nigeria. I appreciate their friendship every day, and I don’t take it for granted.
In the past two years, I have also accessed many opportunities including internships through the support that I received at ANY. Last year Tyler assisted me in securing an internship at Hachette Book Group, one of the top trade publishing companies in the United States. I gained skills and knowledge about the book publishing process and as an author, I learned tips to market my books properly.
I have benefited a lot from the America Needs You program, and I am always working to ensure that students within my reach apply, if they are eligible. The opportunity to be in programs like America Needs You is not very common, and the passion that the ANY staff have towards their work with students like me makes the experience worthwhile. I feel more confident about my skills and in achieving my goals. I have also become a much better speaker and writer in composing my ideas and presenting them. I don’t think I would have come this far, or so fast without the assistance from the America Needs You program and I am extremely grateful to them.
Finally, I thank my family for supporting me throughout the program. Being absent from home on Saturdays wouldn't have been easy if I did not have family members to cheer me and fill in the spaces where I could not.
Going forward, I am hoping to secure an internship in New York for this summer, and I have started filling my Saturdays with activities to achieve some SMART goals that I have set for this year.