Thursday, September 25, 2014

Interview with Charmia Carolina - Even In My Bad Days, There's Hope

Photo Courtesy of Tina dela Rosa 
This fall, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates turns 10! On September 26th, youth advocates, business leaders, and councilmembers will come together to celebrate the accomplishments of the past and our aspirations for the future. As a coalition, DCAYA’s story lies in the experiences of our members who make up the collective power of the alliance. Each week leading up to the 10-Year Anniversary Celebration, we will feature an interview from an advocate or young person who helped build DCAYA into the strong coalition it is today. PURCHASE TICKETS

We met Charmia Carolina when she offered to share her story for the DCAYA short video series “Youth Voices”. Charmia’s powerful presence on camera and honesty in the film brought audience members to tears when her story premiered at the DCAYA report release on disconnected young people.

Now, nearly a year later, we followed up with Charmia to see how her life has evolved after graduating from the Sasha Bruce Youthwork program.

Join Charmia and DCAYA at the 10 Year Anniversary Celebration where she will be honored  as an "Emerging Leader," for sharing her story to better the local community. 

It’s been almost a year since you’ve graduated from Sasha Bruce Youthwork. How has your life changed since finishing the program? 

Going from nothing to graduating within a year and a half, graduating with a GED, getting a full-time job and keeping a full-time job, and then getting an apartment today - it’s showing me lines of maturity that I had never seen within myself, that I didn’t see happening.

I work now on the Sasha Bruce maintenance crew. This is my first job and a lot of people started to work when they were 15/16, so this means a lot because I have a lot of responsibilities. It’s also a comfortable environment. I like going to work, and it provides for me and my daughters.

What does it mean to you to be able to provide for you and your daughters?

It means everything because I went from not even being able to buy [my children] something to drink at times when they were thirsty, or when they were hungry and trying to get through those days when there wasn’t much to eat. Now, just to have a job that provides just that, it is a piece of mind. 

What is it like to now work at the program and interact with other young people who are fighting similar battles that you fought over a year ago?

Ok, prime example. I seen a boy talking about how he wanted to drop out of school the other day and I told him, “You’re here at the Sasha Bruce house and you’re thinking about dropping out of school when you’ve got nothing but good mentors here that help you study with your homework.” The boy said that he was having problems with math and cursive and didn’t want to tell anybody because he was embarrassed. I told a staff member who sat down with him and helped him, and when he was done the boy was like, “I want to go to college to play football!” I was glad that I spoke up and said something because the conversation went from he’s not going to school to thinking about going to college. I feel like my voice counts.

Also, I feel like they can relate to me. So anytime I can talk to a young person to keep them on the right track, I will, because I want them to feel the joy that I feel of accomplishing something.

Do you feel like you just needed a person to give you an opportunity?

Yes. I went through school and kept giving up, kept giving up. Within six years I tried to go back three or four times, even to GED programs and nothing really clicked. For some reason, I got into Sasha Bruce out of 300-and-something-people when they only had slots for 30. I got accepted. I was like, this is something I need to do, and if I didn’t change at that point, I felt like I would have never changed. I would have just let time go passed.

What could you say to other youth people who are struggling to get a job or to go back to school?

Don’t stop. There were a lot of obstacles. I could have woken up and said, man, I don’t feel like going in because the baby’s been crying all night. There’s a lot of things out there that are going to stop you. Just don’t stop because if you don’t stop, all you can get is success in the end.

You’ve attended a few Council hearings, testifying about year-round jobs for youth and then recently, on passing the Homeless Youth Amendment Act. What is it like to speak publicly at Council hearings and share your story?
I actually get to speak my opinion to people that can make a change within my community and express to them from a youth’s point of view how we feel, how everyday livin’ is, and what they can do to help us change it. That is a great thing to me because it means my voice means something.

What does your voice mean?

I feel like I count now. At first, I didn’t feel like my opinion mattered. Now, when I go talk to the DC Council and the Mayor, they might remember my name or at least part of my story. I feel like, if I can get them to remember me and I can get them to remember what I’m saying, it’ll stick in their minds and they’ll make a change.

What’s your vision for DC?

I want a lot of stuff to happen. I want the homelessness to stop because that’s a big thing. If you have nowhere to sleep at night, you can’t really focus on the next day or the next meal or anything of that nature. So I want the District to start with that and then help out with more jobs for people like myself who want to take the next step and are willing to work hard.

A special thank you to Charmia Carolina for being a part of the DCAYA 10 Year Anniversary Celebration. Your strength and perseverance is an inspiration for youth and advocates alike. Join Charmia and DCAYA on September 26th and support youth fulfill their bright futures.

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