2021 Gem Project Fellow Award Honoree Spotlight – Applicant & Essay: Meet Mekhi Addison

Meet other 2021 honorees: Mekhi Addison, Kynise Dixon, Daniela Palacios, and Renée Onque.

Mekhi Addison | Louisiana State University ’25

**At time application, senior at North Star Academy Lincoln Park High School.

Fela Kuti once said, “…Spiritually speaking, every human being has a destiny and a duty to perform.” I believe it’s my destiny to be a pillar of change in my community and my duty to give back to others through community service. Over the past year, I have taken unique initiative in my community and aspire to continue promoting innovative change in the future. 

As a high school senior, I have participated in numerous organizations that promote civic engagement through national service projects. My work in philanthropy is a new example of how I embody being an agent of change in Newark, New Jersey. My most recent experience was working with Own Your Story Newark, a non-profit working to empower Black individuals in the city of Newark, New Jersey, by producing videos telling their story. The most valuable experience was being an advisory board member for our 100K Community Investment Fund to develop passion projects aligned with our campaign’s mission. In this role, I evaluated applications and chose 10 projects I thought were worth investing $5,000 in for the betterment of Newark. As an OYS fellow I have gained invaluable evaluation skills that are critical for numerous areas of life and because of this experience, I have been inspired to create non-profit projects of my own in the near future. 

Being an agent of change requires an individual to analyze what is missing in their community; another skill I gained working in Own Your Story. During my sophomore year of high school, I began seeking therapy following a traumatic event, resulting in my two-year experience with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety. While looking for a therapist, I requested that they be an African American woman because many people fail to learn about the psychological development of black and brown children. When my first appointment came, I immediately noticed the forty-five-minute car ride it took to get to the office from my school in Downtown Newark. From that day forward, I continually reflected on the need for more high-quality, accessible, and affordable mental health services for Newarkers by Newarkers. While I am grateful for having access to superior healthcare, many people in my community do not share this luxury. 

My community service and personal experience have greatly contributed to my aspirations to become a Clinical Child Psychologist in the near future. Psychology and public health are community-oriented fields of work that connect every aspect of society to issues that impact a population to find solutions. I wholeheartedly believe that obtaining a degree in Clinical Child Psychology with a concentration in Public Health will allow me to build a team that strives to bring change to my community innovatively. Without Newark, I would not be who I am today, and this is why I feel I must serve those who need emotional and mental guidance to achieve their own goals. 

These feelings led to me brainstorming a new project, Newark C.A.R.E. Academy: a nonprofit summer program for 10th-grade students to first-year college students. This project will be powered by 3 three women from Newark, including myself, to build one program that centers around these objectives: career counseling, pre-college preparation, art and wellness, and research. These three aspects will be used to guide students based on their interests and aspirations for their future.

The goals I have been able to produce are a result of my confidence in myself as a leader. Going into my first year of college, I would like to strengthen my performance as an organizer. While I am most comfortable taking on more authoritative leadership roles, I would like to step out of this position, and into a laissez-faire form of leadership. As an authoritative leader, it brings me great security knowing that I can listen to others while having complete control over the results my groups produce, but this will not always be the case in college. In a rigorous academic environment everyone one will produce innovative ideas and deserve the opportunity to lead their peers, which means I will have to take a step back and become the “follower.” This will be an extremely new experience for me, but at the collegiate level it is an essential shift for my growth as an individual. 

While I have been able to accomplish great things and set new and improved goals for the future, passion does not pay college tuition. Being the first of 5 children to attend college required me to work extremely hard to set an example for my younger siblings and to work toward achieving the goals I set out for myself. I am being raised in a single parent household in which there hasn’t always been money readily available. My mother is also a college student with 20 thousand dollars in loans to pay off while supporting my siblings and financing my education. Attending my top choice school, Louisiana State University,  will cost me 40 thousand dollars a year, as all the financial aid I’ve received are in the form of student loans and a substantial Parent Plus loan. While I have numerous options in terms of what university to attend, the cost of attendance for each school surpasses 36 thousand dollars a year. Though I’ve been able to excel academically over the years, the financial burden of being able to attend college often frightens me and makes this opportunity seem only like a dream. Being awarded this scholarship will significantly aid my pursuit of a higher education and my ability to invest back into the community that made me. 

Please read the 2021 press release here.