June 28, 2012
Believers Make Achievers
The Y of Metro Chicago’s Black and Latino Achievers (BLA) program serves more than 650 youth each year from diverse Chicago neighborhoods through a variety of leadership development activities designed to expose minority teens to opportunities and inspire success in high school, college and careers. On Tuesday, BLA hosted its annual celebration, “Believers Make Achievers” – a night to recognize graduating students and the people who help make the program possible.
Attendees heard powerful program results, including:
• 100% of BLA seniors complete high school,
• 98% continue with higher education,
• 90% improve their school performance
• 90% feel they acquire a better sense of what to do with their adult lives.
Mountaga William Tall, a senior in the program, spoke to the more than 100 guests about his positive experiences with BLA. What he first believed was an excuse by his mother to get him out of the house turned into a three-year journey that transformed his life.
“I was close-minded, and was disgusted by how easily and poorly one could be labeled by society, which began to sprout into a hatred for all adults … step-by-step, piece-by-piece, the Black and Latino Achievers program rebuilt my character from the ground up,” said Mountaga at the event. “Now, a mere three years after joining the Black and Latino Achievers program, I have evolved beyond what I could have even conceived prior to doing the program … I overcame the odds set for me by society, and not only graduated, but received close to a full-ride scholarship to Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.”
The evening’s keynote speaker – Steve Pemberton, the chief diversity officer and divisional vice president for Walgreens, was a ward of the state for much of his childhood. Steve has made opportunity, access and equality pillars of his personal and professional life.
The Y also celebrated two exemplarily volunteers with Volunteer Achievement Awards: Scott Steward from Break Bread Marketing & Media and Vittoria Incandela from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. BLA benefits from the dedicated service of more than 100 volunteers, representing dozens of companies, who use their individual talents to motivate our youth.
At the end of his remarks, Mountaga shared a famous quote from Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
He added, “Although I am still growing and continuing to find my way, I can honestly say to you all that I am becoming the change. I am going to be a doctor, and one of the greatest in history. Through the Black and Latino Achievers program, we are all becoming closer to revolutionizing everything, from ourselves to our world.”
BLA is one of the Y of Metro Chicago’s youth development programs that encourages interaction between youth and adult role models and the exploration of higher education and career options.
Founded in 1971 at the Harlem New York Branch YMCA, this nationwide program fosters the academic, personal and career development of African-American and Latino youth in 7th through 12th grades. For more information on how to get involved with this program, visit www.ymcachicago.org/mmpage/bla.