In our efforts to empower our community, we thought it would be best to start this year off by giving the youth the ability to make great things happen while traveling. Our Black & Abroad Student Ambassador program was created to serve that very purpose.
B.E.S.T. Academy is an all-male high school in Atlanta. Based in the Bankhead area, the students who attend B.E.S.T. (Business, Engineering, Science, and Technology) consistently set the standard for academic excellence and defy the stereotypes constantly thrown their way. Every student in the class of 2016 has been accepted into college and the seniors have collectively received millions of dollars in scholarships. It’s hard not to be impressed by the drive and determination of these young men.
Each year, the Spanish program, led by Erica Pereira (photographed below), provides an opportunity for these scholars to spend two weeks in a Spanish speaking country. The students stay with a host family, attend school with the local students, and participate in volunteer & service projects while there. They return with a new perspective on the language they’ve been learning and memories they’ll never forget.
During a mentoring session at B.E.S.T. in the fall of 2015, we met Qwantayvious Stiggers, an incredibly bright student with the hunger to make an impact in the world. It was without hesitation that we selected Qwantayvious to be our first Black & Abroad Student Ambassador and the recipient of the first Empower Initiative scholarship! It was our pleasure to cover the entire cost of his final trip with Ms. Pereira’s Spanish class to Mérida, Mexico.
Check out Qwantayvious’ account of his week studying abroad in Mérida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán!
¡Demasiada diversion en Mexico!
Being an African-American male high school student, traveling is not the norm. I linked with Black & Abroad during a weekly mentoring session at B.E.S.T. Academy, where I attended school. Black & Abroad recognized me as a talented young individual having high goals and aspirations, being that I am the Valedictorian for the class of 2016. Many students at my school have never been outside the range of I-285, so it is definitely an honor to be the first Student Ambassador for Black & Abroad. I hope my story inspires others to seek the world!
This Spring, I spent a week in Mérida with my classmates. Here's a peek into my time there.
When I see other peoples’ passports and they have it filled with stamps from different countries I get jealous, so I was elated to see my passport stamped once again at the customs gate. I arrived in Mexico City with a four hour bus ride to reach Mérida. Without a doubt I went to sleep, woke back up, went to sleep again, and then woke back before we finally reached Mérida. Once we arrived, I met my host mother who I’d be staying with for my entire trip. We were all assigned to host families to give us a truly immersive experience in Mexico. The ride home was filled with “How are you, How was the flight, Are you hungry, Do you have brothers?” It almost felt as if she was my mom and I that had just returned from a very long vacation.
We reached the host home and before I could get unpacked, I heard my my host mother say lunch was ready. One thing that sticks with me wherever I go—never turn down food! While eating, she sat with me and watched me eat, just like any mother would. After the meal, we went to visit the school to meet my teacher. In addition to living with a host family, we were also going to be learning Spanish while we were there. He was so enthusiastic about teaching Spanish to young people, it was great.
The first night at home I noticed there were some attachments on the walls. I asked my host mother what were they for. She came back with a sheet like material, but it was soft. I finally put two and two together; it was a hammock! It was so cool to see something on television in real life. I had once asked my mom before if we could get a hammock in our house. She had the most understanding answer ever, a confusing face and puzzling “No”. One of the most interesting details that I heard about hammocks is that they return your body back to the position it was in while in the womb. How cool is that?
Volunteering at Renacer de Mayab was the absolute BEST! Being around children that always want to include you in everything is pretty amazing. It puts a smile on my face whenever I see a kid happy because of something I did. Many people have a misunderstanding that people in underserved foreign countries are nasty but its really not the case they are regular people, just like us. They are trying to manage with what they have, and honestly, they do a pretty good job at it. We helped out by cooking, washing tables and chairs, and I played basketball and soccer with some of the kids. All that those children want is time with someone who cares enough to make the effort to come and have fun with them.
We also visited this school called Colegio Yucatan. There, I met a group of teenagers my age and we shared similar interests in music and in our future careers. When traveling to a different country ,I thought that the high school students would be much further along than I was, however they are in the same situation as I am. They were just as scared about leaving their parents as I am. There will be a lot of doctors coming out of Mérida in the next 15 years! The experience reminded me that just because someone has less than you doesn’t mean they’re not as driven or less equipped than you are. Never judge a book by its cover, because you’d be surprised of the knowledge that book possesses.
Our visit to Chichen Itzá was a definite eye opener. To see something that is still standing from 1200 A.D. blew me away! Just thinking about how long earth was around before I got here is pretty wild. It makes me feel so small. I often ask myself why am in a particular place at a specific moment in time. I think it’s fate.
Two lessons I toke away from the trip: Be grateful for what you have and Never judge a book by its cover. Americans typically think they are struggling, however there is someone else living in way worse conditions who is not even complaining. As a young black man, I am constantly judged for what people think of me before they’ve actually met me or before I’ve even said a word. We need to operate in a different manner. I think the world would be a better place if we did.