“I am intelligent, I am intelligent, who are you? Because I am intelligent”

These were the words I told an 8-year-old boy to repeat as I helped him with his homework at a community center for HIV/Aids impacted communities.  He spoke about how he really wanted an X-Box for Christmas; I just wanted him to know that he could one day create the next X-Box. I wanted him to know he was not restricted to only wishing he could have this device, but ultimately he was intelligent enough become the creator of his own destiny. It sounds cliché, but I can only hope that I can say one or two positive things that will stay with him as I spend the next year trying to impact his life at the Chicago House.

Today I began my non-profit placement for my Masters degree in social policy and administration. For the remainder of this year I will be working for the family services department at a organization called the Chicago House. The Chicago House is a community center that originally opened as a place for HIV positive men in the 1980s to live out the rest of their days in peace. As Aids medication adavanced in the last 20 years, this center has transformed into a place that helps HIV impacted communities.

As I walked into the center it became apparent that black males are not usually in the position of authority. Quite the opposite, most of the people who work at this center are white females, women who seem to be doing incredible work and achieving great success. Ten years ago some of these very same women noticed that the adults that were living in this housing arrangement had children that were not completing high school. In fact, there was near a one hundred percent drop out rate among youth inside of this facility.

These are youth that deal with the backlash of having the plague of HIV impact their mothers, fathers, and siblings. The stress, pain and uncertainty that comes with the virus would all land on the backs on these young people who had no choice in what environment they were born into. The Chicago House decided they needed to start an education program that supports these young people socially and academically.

My Job this year will be two-fold. I will primarily be working in youth development doing programming and tutoring, but I will also be able to work with the adults at the center and base my work around goal setting and financial planning. I am excited about what I will learn and what I can teach in this new job setting. If I truly believe that education is the “can opener” to success, then I must incorporate this belief into my everyday practice.

The young man that I was tutoring today seemed to be encouraged, if only for a moment. I walked him up stairs to his mother’s house and as the door shut, within seconds I heard a myriad of profane words and aggressive shouts being paraded at the young boy. As I left work that night—knowing I would continue the intelligent chant with him in two days— I wondered, could my three hours of positivity be enough to impact a child that has 3 times as much negative reinforcement? The answer has yet to be determined.