Double Take: Stereotypes of a Smart Kid : Akintunde Ahmad

Featuring: Akintunde Ahmed. Photo by: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Featuring: Akintunde Ahmad. Photo by: Michael Short, The Chronicle

contributor_nonieokoye“No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid,” said  actress Lupita Nyong’o recently as she accepted her first Oscar win at the 2014 Academy Awards. Everyone in the audience was teary-eyed. When the underdog wins it gives people hope that they too can get recognition for their achievements. Many of us urbanites can identify with actresses such as Lupita, which is why it is important to have that representation in the media.

This brings me to the topic of Akintunde Ahmad. He is currently a high school senior at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, CA. He holds an outstanding 5.0 GPA and was accepted into various schools in his state including Ivy League schools such as Yale, Brown, Columbia, Northwestern, and others. He scored a 2100 (out of 2400) on the SATs and is an all-around student who plays baseball for his high school. He is a 17-year old, 6 foot African American male who wears cascading shoulder length locks and dresses like an average male from his neighborhood on 98 Avenue in Oakland, which could be classified as urban street style.

Akintunde says that he is used to the stares that he receives whether he’s in an AP class, or when people found out about his SAT scores. And amusingly, when he walked up to the Yale University recruitment table at his school’s University recruitment fair. Although it is 2014, some people still are prejudices against people when it comes to appearance and perception. I noticed that locks or dreadlocks have somewhat of a negative connotation. In fact the term “dreadlocks,” were given to Jamaican slaves who wore this hairstyle, by colonists who thought the style was “dreadful”. That is why with a person like Akintunde, people would never expect him to have these aspirations based on his appearance and where he came from.

Part of the Gem Project’s goal is to help and serve the youth with strengthening their leadership goals to then become productive and aspiring citizens in the future. We focus primarily in the area of Newark, NJ, which often receives negative views from outsiders. You would be surprised there that are “Gems,” such as Akintunde from Oakland, who are floating around Newark waiting to be uncovered. Like Lupita said, “No matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.” Akintunde did not become a product of his environment but chose to make his dreams valid by striving hard to achieve great feats.


Nonie Okoye serves as a Contributor Lead at The Gem Project, Inc. Okoye is a Rutgers University student studying biology and the arts. She resides in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @LoveGemNonye.

Edited by Deja Jones, M.Ed, Director of Communications. Follow her on Twitter @Simply_Dej.

Movers, Shakers & World Changing Women



dejajonesstampHundreds of women, young and old gather in Centennial Hall at the Newark Public Library in NJ to have their voices heard at the 2nd Annual State of the 21st Century Black Woman Empowerment Conference hosted by the Beta Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. The conference was held in the form of a panel discussion with topics that covered issues such as global poverty & economic injustice, education, healthcare, and human trafficking which reign supreme in many urban communities across the globe.

After the introductions and opening remarks were made, the first panelist to present was Tracey Rangie, Health Specialist for Region II of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Rangie’s presentation focused on the Affordable Healthcare Act and getting families and individuals signed up. In terms of the urban communities, specifically ones similar to Newark, NJ many families or people cannot afford healthcare. Rangie, took attendees through the steps of completing the healthcare application process so that women can leave with the proper tools to education those in their communities. As of now families and individuals must be enrolled in the healthcare plan by the 31st of March.

The second panelist to present was Dr. Deborah Davis-Terrell, former interim superintendent of Newark Public Schools. As Dr. Davis-Terrell approached the podium, the round of applause for the previous speaker silenced.

“In 2013, over 5,000 books were published. 67 of those books were by African Americans authors and 93 were about African Americans. There is a problem with those numbers.”

As women attendees nodded in agreement, Dr. Davis-Terrell went on to discuss a major issues that is weighing heavily on urban education: there are not enough community members invested in the education of the children of our communities. Dr. Davis Terrell then makes some very valid arguments in her contrasting of education in the 90’s versus education of today. A part of the problem is that children no longer have the desire to learn. The level of importance of education in our urban communities have significantly decreased and parents seem to send their children to school not to be educated, but because it’s the right thing to do.

During Dr. Davis-Terrell’s presentation, she merges to relationship between poverty and education. Parents are not able to be enforcers of education at home due to working late hours to ensure that their family survives which in turn leaves students with no desire to learn or apply what they have learned in school to life outside of school.

More of Dr. Davis-Terrell’s presentation address whether the NewarkOne Enrollment process is selling false hope to families in terms of school choice; how online education and learning are creating more of a disconnect between the home and school and ends by stating that parents need to make more of an effort to be involved in their child’s school community.

Dr. Davis-Terrell delivered her presentation in a way that was similar to a preacher delivering a sermon. By the time she concluded her argument, women were on their feet clapping in unison. Her words opened up the platform for the next speaker.

As the crowd of passionate women came to an anticipatory silence, a strong voice from the podium asked, “By a show of hands, who would leap at the idea of being rich?” Women giggled and laughed as hands shot in the air.

The voice was from Saundra Y. Addison-Brito, a human rights, social justice, and community activist who serves in the states of New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York. Saundra opens up her presentation by taking women viewers on a journey of her childhood. “When I was younger, we were poor, but we didn’t know it…”

Addison-Brito goes on to explain that there used to be a social capital that existed in urban areas that just is not there anymore. “There was a richness in community and culture.”

According to Addison-Brito, the urban community flourished then because we were confined and in being confined the doctors, lawyers, and business owners served as role models and mentors and taught others the tricks of their trade.

“After the civil rights legislature was pasted in the 1960’s, and the Jefferson’s implanted the dream of movin’ on up in us as a culture, we lost something very important, we lost our social richness because we became free to do whatever we wanted.” Addison-Brito passionately says

The presentation on poverty was concluded by Addison-Brito challenging women to think about ways we can get our social capital back. She challenged women to think about who in their neighborhoods they could mentor.”

Before Addison-Brito took her seat, she asked, “Why is there still so much poverty in this land of wealth?”

Attorney General, Tracey Thompson concluded the empowerment conference by educating women on human trafficking and how to identify and what to do when we come into contact with traffickers and women who are victims.

Women left the conference feeling empowered, and inspired to be movers, shakers, and women world changers in their homes, jobs, communities, and globally.

Deja Jones, M.Ed  serves as the Director of Communications  at The Gem Project, Inc. Jones  is  also a youth specialist. She has earned her B.A of Journalism degree at Rutgers University and M.Ed at Liberty University. She resides in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @Simply_Dej.

Baltimore welcomes the future of higher education for the annual NASPA 2014 Conference

Image Credit: NASPA

Image Credit: NASPA

contributor_arlenehernandezOver a thousand undergraduate, graduate, and working professionals from all across the United States gathered for the annual National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Conference, this year held in Baltimore, Maryland. According to its official website, the NASPA organization was founded in 1919 as the “Conference of Deans and Advisers of Men” and has since evolved through the years as a program that focuses on enriching the academic as well as social lives of students pursuing a higher education.

There are many challenges faced by students in colleges and universities that go beyond the classroom, and these issues need to be addressed for the betterment of the student’s overall well being. The ultimate goal of the annual conference is to bring together student affairs professionals as well as those interested in pursuing the field for a chance to network and learn about different graduate programs and career opportunities available. There were various workshops and informative sessions for attendees, some catered to the development of one’s career while others focused on topics that may directly affect an industry professional in the workplace.

I had the honor of attending the conference along with two other Rutgers-Newark seniors as well as personnel from the Office of Student Life and Leadership at Rutgers. Priding myself in attending a college campus with one of the most diverse populations of students, I was pleasantly surprised to see the ethnic and cultural diversity coming from the attendees and presenters. There was a session that spoke out to me in the most profound way about the issue of diversity in a college campus that may be predominant in one particular race.

Many times, students may not feel included or a part of the institute and this therefore may affect their academic performance. The presenter advocated for the importance of having a multicultural center in institutes of higher education to better address this issue, which seems to be one that many in the industry may face as campuses welcome students of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. But looking around and noticing the inclusion and amiable attendees, I can assure that the future college students will work with professionals who are accepting and even welcoming to anyone.

Arlene Hernandez serves as a Contributor Lead and Social Media Lead at The Gem Project, Inc. Hernandez is in her final year at Rutgers University studying English. She resides in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @ArleneH1991.

Edited by Deja Jones, M.Ed, Director of Communications. Follow her on Twitter at @Simply_Dej.

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Category: Community & Global Issues · Tags:

Find Your Success

contributor_nonieokoyeIt is rather interesting how our experiences in life shape and mold us into the people we are today. It creates what we call “character,” which is a huge part of our personalities. In the midst of them, we often complain about our struggles and hardships. If those struggles and hardships never occurred, how could we be prepared to face other obstacles in the future? Most importantly, how will be able to give someone help in similar situations?  An observation I made was that most successful people today, have gone through paths that were filled with rocks, unpaved areas, potholes, detours, accidents and traffic jams.

I recently shared with a friend a commonality of what I felt was found within the most successful people today. It seems that most have been through a moment of instability in life. For example, Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Leslie were once homeless. Steve Harvey, television host and comedian,  once said that in order to be really successful, you have to do some uncomfortable things.

A personal example, I had this classic phobia of “stage fright.”  I never really liked speaking in front of people or have a whole room stare at me. I still haven’t completely overcome it, but I did some “uncomfortable” things that could help me do so. About two years ago when I first got to Rutgers, I was new and a transfer student. I did not know anyone and I always kept to myself because I wanted to remain focused on my education. One day, I was presented with an opportunity to try out for an upcoming fashion show at school. The idea sounded great. Secretly,  I always wanted to strut up and down the runway like Naomi Campbell. I figured, why not ? The only thing that was holding me back was that I was really shy–especially in front of large public platform. I kept telling myself that if I did not participate in the show, I would regret it later.  I would always spend time wondering what it would have been like. Without  dwelling too much on the matter, I literally decided to just go for it. I knew that this would be out of my comfort zone, but I knew it needed to be done so that I could overcome my fear.

During the practices and days leading up to the show, I was actually stressed and going through a lot academically and personally.  I saw this fashion show as a trophy to win at the end. The ultimate prize would be conquering stage fright, self-doubt, and fear. And ultimately, I would be winning self-confidence at the end.

Finding your success won’t be an easy task, but it will be a rewarding experience in the end. Remember that a piece of salt crystal can’t become a sparkly diamond without a little roughing, wear and tear.


Nonie Okoye serves as a Contributor Lead at The Gem Project, Inc. Okoye is a Rutgers University student studying biology and the arts. She resides in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @LoveGemNonye.

Edited by Deja Jones, M.Ed, Director of Communications. Follow her on Twitter @Simply_Dej.

Image Credit: Survey Sample International

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Lead. Be Brazen–

  • “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

Lead. Be Resilent–

  • “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Lead. Be Strong–

  • “When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” – Betty Bender