Who Knew a School Requirement Could Change Your Life?

Fifty hours was all I needed.

This was the thought in my mind when I first came to a Global Kids meeting ten years ago. As a student from The Beacon School in Manhattan, part of my graduation requirements were to participate in 50 hours of community service during my sophomore year. While my classmates partook in many of the traditional and important jobs of park cleanups, mentoring younger students, and aiding in administrative work at non-profit organizations, I was sitting in a circle with other high school students being asked what issues were important to me.

What had I gotten myself into?

Ask any Global Kids' alum about what it is we do and more than likely the first response will always be giving youth a voice. In retrospect what is done by this organization is so much more than that. Global Kids engages young people to think critically about the world around them and brings relevancy to both historical and current events. So often young people who -- like myself -- hail from underserved neighborhoods are never given the chance to be heard about the issues that concern them. There are already many socioeconomic and political systems stacked against us, it is easy to feel disempowered when you see your community or your family struggling for basic rights such as adequate health care and a safe learning environment.

Global Kids is one of NYC's most respected youth development organizations and the only one that focuses on international affairs education as a key component of its work. Through a range of programs, Global Kids reaches over 16,000 educators and youth each year, along with over hundreds of thousands who participate in our pioneering digital media projects.

Our work is grounded in the belief that all young people have the will and capacity to achieve and contribute to their communities. We know through experience that when provided with opportunities to learn about and address issues of concern, they respond with intelligence, energy, and creativity and are motivated to acquire new knowledge and skills.

As a Global Kids Leader I have had the opportunity to learn about human rights issues, speak to experts at the Council on Foreign Relations, testify at the United Nations concerning inequality in education and healthcare, travel to Croatia and Bosnia to work with youth on cultural diversity and post-war peace-building, coproduce and cohost a monthly radio talk show on social justice issues from a youth perspective on WBAI, serve on the Board of Directors as a student representative, and become a peer educator which consisted of researching, developing and facilitating workshops on topics that mattered to me. To say Global Kids single-handedly changed my perspective on the world would be an understatement.

In August of 2001, the summer before my senior year of high school, I sat in a very different circle, co-facilitating a workshop about cultural diversity with a fellow Global Kid Leader. We sat among people our age who had lived through -- and some even served in -- the Yugoslav wars. There came a moment where one young person told us that as Americans we could not begin to understand what it was to go to bed in fear and hear war outside your window. America was this idealized rich nation to them. It was then where it became clear for me that our struggles were not so different. I may not have lived through war, but as a kid from the South Bronx I knew what gunshots outside my window sounded like and knew the feeling of being scared to walk home alone after dark due to violence in my area. While the two worlds are completely different in many respects, it was that moment where the idea of being a part of a global community truly hit home. That shared connection allowed us to be seen as not just Americans, but as fellow young people who also wanted something better.

Global Kids participants gain a substantive understanding of some of the most critical issues of our time -- from human rights and international law to immigration and global and community health. They gain skills in critical thinking, communication, collaborative problem solving, and leadership; and, perhaps, most important, they broaden their horizons, understand their responsibilities as citizens, and envision themselves as important members of the global community.

While these opportunities have impacted me greatly, the most important value I discovered as a Global Kid was realizing my own strengths. As a staff member I now see that the work we do is not just what we provide for our young people, but what it is they bring to the table. So often students' talents and abilities are not recognized nor do they have a positive outlet for them; at Global Kids their natural leadership and creative skills are further developed and encouraged.

Each year, over 95 percent of the Global Kids Leaders graduate from high school despite attending some of the City's most underperforming schools. Almost all go on to higher education, and many are studying international affairs. Global Kids believes that increasing the diversity of members of the foreign policy establishment and international affairs community will benefit the conduct of international relations. We want our students to recognize that careers in these fields are open to them.

To learn more about Global Kids, I encourage you to watch the video below:

I am proud to now work for an organization that has done so much for me, and see the continued positive influence it has on young people. Please feel free to check out our Web site to learn more about our programs and as a fellow alum once said, witness youth turn hope into action.