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“You will never be half the man I am. You, your mom, and your sisters…all of you are worth nothing.” These are the words Elham Chowdhury heard often from his father. Elham felt like nothing when these words haunted his thoughts. He didn’t think success was within his reach. In addition to being broken down mentally, Elham, his mother and sisters endured physical abuse. Not even guests and religious holidays could protect them from his father’s wrath; their only safety was found behind the barely-working lock of a bedroom door. On his tenth birthday, Elham’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the time, Elham thought it might be a blessing in disguise—he reasoned her sickness would deflate his father’s violence. Instead, it only heightened and intensified the abuse, which continued until his mother passed away in 2010. Elham began lashing out; he started fights with fellow students, disrupted classrooms, and was suspended from school. Yet, in a moment of clarity amidst all the anguish, he reflected on the memory of his mother, and what she would think of the way his life was unfolding. Ashamed, he took control of his life. He re-dedicated himself to his studies and discovered a passion for basketball. Soon he was performing at the top of his class. In June, he will be heading to college and pursuing his dream to spark change.
Shirleyka Hector was a 12 year old living in Port-au-Prince when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Seeking a new life, her family moved to New York. She didn’t feel welcomed by her relatives in her new home and when she started school, she was bullied for being an immigrant. Learning English was a great struggle for her. With no one to talk she turned to writing which helped Shirleyka learn English and gave her a sense of purpose. As her performance in school steadily improved, she began to tutor the students who had previously bullied her, forming friendships and believing in the power of forgiveness. While she was succeeding, people close to her were dismissive of her dreams, responding to her goal of becoming a doctor by suggesting she become a Home Health Aide instead. At first, this was incredibly disheartening. But her continued excellence in the classroom confirmed the attainability of her remarkable ambition. Now a student at a high school for immigrants, she performs at the top of her class with a 96 average. She still writes almost every day, and has become involved in two clubs that help other students who are struggling in school. After interning at a hospital last summer, she is determined to be an orthopedic surgeon.
With an absent father and a jobless single mother, Aesron Jeremiah endured a lifetime of homelessness. Along with his mother, brother and baby sister, he lived with his aunt for a few years before issues arose between the family members, causing them to leave. His family then lived in two different shelters – one in the Bronx, one in Brooklyn. When he first entered the shelter system at 13 he became shy and was bullied as a result. While in the shelter, Aesron found it difficult to have a normal life due to the shelter curfew. Once he was inside, he had to balance homework with taking care of his siblings. Struggling with these challenges, he went from achieving excellent grades to performing poorly. He had a hard time focusing in school and often fell asleep in class. Aesron’s mother noticed his struggles and had him join a program that helps homeless youth, Safe in My Brother’s Arms (S.I.M.B.A.). SIMBA provided him with tutoring and gave him the opportunity to take college classes for credit. While in the program, he started to come out of his shell and foster lasting friendships. His grades improved. S.I.M.B.A helped him get a summer job. With the money, he helped his mother with expenses like groceries. With a great support system, he feels he can achieve his dream of becoming an engineer.
Sashagale Moore felt weird compared to other kids because she grew up having absence seizures, a condition that would render her briefly unaware of what was going on around her. She had to take medication to keep them in control. The seizures impacted her schooling and, in the fifth grade Sasha was placed in special education classes, which made her inferior to other kids. Attending therapy for her educational needs helped her overcome the feeling of not being an average teen. While dealing with her condition, as well as the hardship of being raised by a single mother working two jobs to support the Sasha and her sister she was also the victim of bullying for her physical size. She fell behind in school when her biggest inspiration, her grandmother, passed away. Ultimately, instead of drowning in her troubles, she focused on school, started to help others with their work and stood strong because it’s what her grandmother would’ve wanted.
Ruben Suazo came to New York from Honduras with his mother when he was five. As an undocumented child, he lived most of his life in secrecy. He learned English, and his parents, who never progressed passed middle school in Honduras relied on him as an interpreter and navigator in a bewildering new country. He was bullied in school, but because of his status, he felt defenseless against the tormenting. To this day, Ruben worries about losing his home because of his parents’ unstable employment and undocumented status. To sustain himself, he has dived into his studies. He learned that education can give him the future he seeks as a lawyer. Earning an 85 average in high school, he started to come out of his shell. As a member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, he helps to improve his school. He loves being a leader in student government, where he has become a mentor to younger students grappling with the obstacles he too has faced. For Ruben, education is his chance at liberty and fulfillment. He sees college as a starting point to put himself in a position to serve others. In succeeding, he found pride in himself.