After volunteering with Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership in high school, I knew I wanted to help others and contribute to something greater than myself. However, I was struck by how the same ingredients that made the organization so effective restricted its impact. The success of Harlem Lacrosse relies on the commitment and dedication of its students and their parents, making it impossible to reach the most at-risk youth. Innercity Weightlifting (ICW) tackles this problem head on. By actively seeking to help the 300 to 400 highest risk gang affiliated youth that are most likely to be involved in violence, ICW makes a city wide difference by forming meaningful connections with the youth in Boston who are most actively avoided. Their students come from in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury and have family incomes of less than $10K. Most have been shot, and all, except a couple, have done significant jail time.
What appeals to me most about ICW’s work is that although they seek to serve the greater Boston community, they do so by making a deeply personal impact on a small number of people and emphasize the importance of emotional and mental health. They use the gym as a place where their students can find hope, build trust with positive adults, and belong to a new, supportive community. Ultimately, they seek to create change through love while using weightlifting as a platform to do it. Having spent a lot of time and energy working on my own mental health and wellbeing, I understand its importance and am able to engage in richer conversations as a result. My own struggles have made me more compassionate towards others and led me to be more vulnerable when mentoring my teammates about how they view and approach their mental wellbeing. Actively engaging in these difficult conversations has shown me that, in many cases, simply listening to and acknowledging person’s struggles is far more effective and meaningful than trying to “solve” them. While I may be unable to fully understand or help remedies students’ problems at ICW, I think my ability to be listen and be compassionate towards others will make me a valuable member to their community.
Although I do not know exactly what I foresee myself doing in the future, I do know that I ultimately want to find a way to educate young adults and engage in conversations that are often overlooked in both in our education system and also our society. I love encouraging people to ask harder questions. What makes a life fulfilling? How does the way we interact with those around us affect our own happiness? How can we operate more from a place of love and less from a place of fear? While I like to think that I am able to provide some insight, I primarily enjoy learning from what others have to say. I believe ICW would give me a once in a lifetime opportunity to help, but more importantly, learn from a demographic of people that I otherwise would not interact with. Working at ICW would enable me to experience the pros and cons of mentoring in a setting that doesn’t revolve around academics and show me how an organization can have such a profound impact through genuine care paired with an effective structure.