Girl On Fire

Jade Romain is LOVE. I'm an individual who deeply and genuinely loves all things and people, but typically gravitate to the vulnerable, the forgotten, the stigmatized. As a kid, car rides to school would always be little life lessons. Traffic was an inevitable part of the daily car ride, so my mom would challenge me to look at the people in traffic and state what they were thinking about it. I would sometimes make silly inferences, but as I got older I understood that my mom was challenging me to put myself in others' shoes...developing empathy. She always stated, "you never know what a person is going through." Since then, it's been my life goal to help those that are in deep struggle. I am a person who loves to talk to unfamiliar people–the homeless woman in front of the store, the old man sitting in the park, the crackhead standing by the stairs. Living in poverty has taught me to communicate with anyone, no matter what walk of life they are coming from. I can walk through the projects of Brooklyn and talk to everyone in there without fearing for my life and at the same time go to a professional conference and feel comfortable. More importantly, I believe that growing up in poverty has allowed me to have insight to the injustices within the black community. It inspires me to change the cradle to prison pipeline. It motivates me to fight for the resources that should have been available in my community growing up... because if those resources were accessible some of my old classmates wouldn't be serving life sentences right now. Something as simple as having access to a speech pathologist in the school to help a child learn to positively communicate makes such an impact on one child. I want to be that person. I want to be that speech pathologist that's available to help kids find their voices so they can grow up to be the change agents of the world instead of dead or in prison. All of these actions have to be handled with love, without it they are useless. Thus, I try to be a person that embodies love.

Attending Xavier for undergrad was a life-changing adventure that was vital to my overall growth. Im aware that individuals attempt to undermine HBCU's, but to me they are institutions that provide opportunities for individuals who may not otherwise have been granted one. My freshman year was tough because I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Initially I was studying Political Science with an emphasis in international studies...but that quickly changed when speech pathology fell in my lap. Additionally, all HBCU students are required to take a certain amount of African American studies credits, and what better setting to take the class than at a black school. This class taught me the real history of my people but also reiterated the current state of Black People in America. Attending Xavier allowed me be in the presence of other like-minded black women and men who all had the goal of giving back to our community. Professors and staff could relate to me culturally, and tried their hardest to prepare students for the world outside of Xavier walls. These are experiences I wouldn't have gained at a predominantly white institution.

Furthermore, the key factor to my success at Xavier was never losing sight of my goals. I was always planning the next steps. I found the Graduate Office and instantly shared with them my career and life goals. They introduced me to the Ronald E. McNair Program and encouraged me to apply. This program allowed me to do research in my chosen career, while getting paid. Additionally, as a McNair scholar, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit various graduate programs around the country. Since my sophomore year at Xavier I had a list of the graduate programs I wanted to attend, their requirements, and professors at those schools who had similar interests as I did. I never lost sight of what I wanted to gain from my degree at Xavier. This lead to my acceptance at Columbia University.

Teachers College, Columbia University is a different beast than Xavier. I am equally grateful for the opportunity; however, I would have lacked preparation to conquer the beast if Xavier wasn't the foundation. During my second week at Columbia my uncle was killed and the second semester my mom was taken to prison. This is when I realized that HBCUs and PWIs are on opposite sides of the educational spectrum. Because of these personal life events, my grades suffered during my first year at Columbia. I received a C and withdrew from a course which automatically placed me on academic probation. If I received another C grade in a course, I would be kicked out. This also delayed my completion of the program. I knew that if this had occurred at Xavier, the school would understand and wouldn't place such harsh consequences upon me. My classmates would most likely be able to empathize with the events, but such didn't exist at Columbia.

Nonetheless, in December I will finally have my masters in Speech-Language Pathology from Teachers College, Columbia University. My plan is to work in high schools, juvenile centers, and prisons as a Speech Language Pathologist to assist these individuals in finding their voice so they can use it to positively change their communities and the world.

Khondanani is a non-governmental organization I started back in 2013 to help create sustainable education within Zambian schools by providing educational resources to the students. Initially, I traveled to Zambia with the intentions of teaching kindergarten students at a school called Blessed Vale Community School. Blessed Vale is located in Chibolya, one of the poorest neighborhoods of the country. The homes of these children had no electricity, no running water, no windows...typically just a room. Most of the students' families struggled to feed them every day, so the students would come to school hungry. SO of course if a child didn't have access to consistent meals, they surely weren't coming to school with pencil and paper. Thus, teaching was an every day challenge. Basic supplies like pencil and paper were damn near nonexistent within the walls of Blessed Vale. Students would share the pencils that the classroom did have, which was no more than six pencils for a class of 62 students. The teachers in the school are all volunteers, therefore they couldn't afford to buy supplies for the classroom or the students. It was common for the teachers to run out of chalk, making it difficult to continue their lessons for the day. Overall, teaching at a community school in Zambia has minimal similarities to teaching in America. After being in Zambia for 2.5 months, my heart found it necessary to start a project. Khondanani relies on basic school supply donations from people in America which are then shipped and distributed within two community schools in Zambia. Although the students come from unfathomable backgrounds, everyday they enter the school doors with the intention of learning...which starts with a pencil and paper.

Advice to my lovely peers: It doesn't matter what neighborhood or family dynamic you come from, use the cards God dealt you and make the best out of your cards right, with love. Keep pushing. Always remember the end goal...the reason you are getting up each & every morning to hustle.

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