“In middle school, I was an honors student,” said 17-year-old Bed-Stuy resident Kashema Harvey.
“But when I got to high school, I just forgot what I was there for. My freshman year, I was all over the place. My sophomore year, it just got worse: I just got distracted by the environment, there was so much going on; I got mixed up in drama, and my grades started going straight downhill.”
Fortunately, Harvey managed to rebound. Towards the end of her sophomore year in high school, she joined an organization called “Global Kids,” a nonprofit group based in New York City dedicated to exposing underprivileged teens to world affairs, media and public policy.
With the help and direction of her parents, Global Kids and a handful of dedicated teachers and school administrators, Harvey began to once again make sense of the world around her. And thank goodness, because for a while, it seemed as though her options were closing in on her, fast.
To begin with, she learned in 2011 that her high school, Paul Roberson, was named as one of several failing schools in New York City that was slated for closure by the Department of Education.
But even before the announcement of the school's closure, the students could feel that things were beginning to fray. Budget cuts had left the school with fewer counselors and fewer resources. Plus, added Harvey, teachers began to show signs of stress: Many of them seemed overworked or just out of reach.
“They think we can’t tell, but students know when a teacher really cares or if they’re just there for the paycheck,” said Harvey. “But my father always said to me, ‘Please, no matter what, put your education first. I will try to give you anything, if you just put your education first.’”
Global Kids encouraged Harvey to begin thinking again about the importance of education, her future, the world around her and where she fit in it.
“We did a lot of global awareness activities and all these things they were telling me that I didn’t even know about that I felt like I should have known about,” said Harvey. “Like for example, you know how we consider Al Qaeda terrorists? At Global Kids we talked about how when America goes over there and occupies their country, they consider us the terrorists. And I never thought of that. It just opened my eyes up to so many things.”
Through Global Kids, Harvey is now working as a New Media & Arts Fellow at the Fort Greene-based 651 Arts where she is sharpening her communications skills through writing, events planning, media production and digital arts. Already she has had the opportunity to interview two stellar guests of 651 Arts’s “Live and Outspoken” series, including world-renowned choreographer Judith Jamison and singer Toshi Reagon.
On April 19, Harvey was invited to the United Nations as a student journalist where she got a chance to meet Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., and participate in a press conference on nuclear disarmament. She took notes at the press conference and wrote an article, which was published in the most recent edition of the Brooklyn College Excelsior.
Now, as a high school senior back at the top of the class, Kashema Harvey’s mission is clear: She wants to work and travel as an international journalist and help expose other young people to news and information about the world around them.
“If I could say anything to other high-schoolers, it would be to learn more about the world outside of what they see every day,” said Harvey. “And also, when your parents tell you that your education should come first, they are telling the truth. No matter what, don’t let nothing come in the way of distracting you from your goals, because it will pull you so far back. I lost so much time trying to make up for all those bad mistakes I made.”
Harvey admitted that even with the good grades she has now, her first two years compromised her overall grade point average, making it difficult to get into any of the colleges she wanted to attend, particularly her first choice, Howard University.
“I was depressed for a while, because I wasn’t getting any acceptance letters,” said Harvey.
Fortunately, the final school she applied to, Virginia State University, accepted her. She is excited, because it is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Now, she looks forward to her future days in college, and what she hopes will be many more travels outside of New York City.
“Did you know that at the U.N. conference, there was a live web feed with students my age from all over the world asking questions,” said Harvey?
Her eyes flickered like a newly lit candle.
“…people from India, Colombia, China, Germany and Russia spoke too. And you know Russia’s a country of great advances in nuclear weapons, but all these countries are under a non-proliferation agreement, because another thing that sparked the conference was the illegal launching in North Korea, because, you know they launched a rocket and…
“… We even had a private lunch and then another press conference with Susan Rice, and I actually got to ask her a question about what are some of the things the international community is doing now to investigate other countries with nuclear weapons, and Ms. Rice told me that they were approaching some of the other countries to address some of the harmful uses, and…”
Kashema Harvey’s world is expanding. And she can hardly wait to explore it.