Seeds of Peace helped me to productively engage my own identities as a Muslim, an African, and an immigrant.
I’m originally from Ghana, where I worked as a photojournalist for a range of print publications. I moved to New York City in 2000 and then Maine in 2002, where I started working with marginalized young people who are dealing with challenges like homelessness, incarceration, and substance abuse, as well as immigrant families who are trying to understand the way the system works.
Through my work I met youth who had been involved with Seeds of Peace, and first attended the Seeds of Peace Camp in 2008 as a facilitator for the Delegation Leaders program. I have remained involved with Seeds of Peace since, as a facilitator and participant in the Educator course, and have recruited Seeds from Maine and supported them throughout their Seeds of Peace journey.
Seeds of Peace played a role in my exposure to different people and broadened the way I look at the world. I gained experience getting things done inside the community. I discovered the value of collaboration; at Camp, collaborative engagement was at the center of everything. We engage people not to antagonize them, but for the common good of all.
How are you impacting your community?
I am a Youth and Community Engagement Specialist at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and a City Council Member of Portland, Maine. I have spent the better part of my career focused on engaging youth and creating dialogue across cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic and faith-based groups.
I have spent many summers working as a facilitator for Seeds of Peace (Maine Seeds). I have also worked as a site coordinator for PROP’S (Now Opportunity Alliance) Peer Leader Program, and as a youth worker at Preble Street’s Lighthouse Shelter, I also worked with homeless and incarcerated teens. At Volunteers of America, I was a Residential Counselor, working with formerly incarcerated men on overcoming challenges such as substance use and mental health issues as well as getting them ready to go back into their communities. I also served as the Education and Community Engagement Coordinator for the NAACP Portland branch.
I built relationships with schools when recruiting Seeds, and in being that close, I saw the problems and opportunities within the school district. I ran and won a seat on the Portland School Board. I came to my position on the School Board with the unique perspectives as an immigrant to the US, with deeply-rooted working relationships with families in the community, and an approach to engagement with people as relational, not transactional. I also approached it from an advocacy perspective.
The school district wasn’t communicating well with the community because there is a broken relationship with marginalized and immigrant communities here. For example, some immigrant parents either don’t have formal education or don’t have an understanding of the American education system, so as a result, many students have no help doing homework, so I work to find college students to provide help and they get school credit in return.
I also founded and run a nonprofit, the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, which focuses on service in the community, cross-faith and cross-cultural dialogue, and also encourages the use of art as a means of expression. We bring in diverse speakers to share their knowledge and experiences with the Portland community. Many Maine Seeds were involved in the Alliance, and we collaborated with organizations throughout the state.
I also co-founded The King Fellows, a group that creates meaningful opportunities for youth, including leadership and civic engagement based on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While working with diverse groups of individuals who are predominantly immigrants, I have built strong relationships with many communities, nonprofits, institutions, and leaders from diverse backgrounds.
My GATHER Fellowship project, the Center for Civic and Community Engagement (CCCE), will facilitate engagement between immigrants, municipal and state governments, and other community leaders.
As the population of Maine changes, so are the needs for engagement between these groups so that real representation, inclusive decision-making, and integrated community conversations can occur.
CCCE will build on existing community members strengths so that individual immigrants and communities can enhance their ability to influence the political, social, economic and educational culture of their cities and of the state.
It will also serve as a central hub for developing, coordinating, and supporting the leadership capacity of emerging leaders from the immigrant community and other people of color. It will do so by encouraging their full participation in public, civic, and political life through a yearlong fellowship that will focus on leadership development, career readiness, and political and civic engagement.
“I hope my story will inspire others and the youth who are part of Seeds of Peace to make their own path and to give to their community.”