“Ms. Ursula, I want to run away.”
“Ms. Ursula, are you coming to our school today?”
Imagine receiving these messages in the middle of the night – knowing you could bring hope, resources and, possibly, a way out to the young sister on the other end. It was heavy but gratifying work. It was a joy, but it was also a weight to carry. And to think, this was a job I wasn’t even trained to do. . .
The excitement and uncertainty of graduating college during a recession was a whirlwind. I had no idea it would take me so long to find employment, and then that I’d start a job that had nothing to do with my degree. I gave myself six months to be in this unfamiliar space of doing all the right things – well, at least from what my parents told me, “Go to college, find a great job, and retire.”
I started working for a new non-profit organization as program director, and I used some of my skills in branding to help the organization. The organization worked with partners to fund and execute programming for underserved youth. I had no experience in what I was doing. What did I get myself into? That was the ongoing thought I had most days driving from school to school. How could I relate? Well, the most common thread was that we were all Black girls –it just so happened that they were still teens, and I wasn’t one anymore.
As time progressed, I found ways to pique the girls’ interest and build a conversation around things we all go through as young women: confidence, self-esteem, relationships, faith, etc. Meeting after meeting with the girls, but also in a short time span, we helped each other grow. Some of the girls had experiences I couldn’t even have imagined at their age, which gave me a new outlook on being a young woman. I think I was around 23, and as much as I thought I was pouring into them, they showed me resilience, boldness, and creativity.
Their vulnerability, or lack thereof, fueled my determination to pursue meaningful work.
After six years of advocating for teen girls, I continued my career in storytelling, sharing the trials and achievements of college students from historically black colleges and universities. I wear it as a badge of honor that I get to enhance voices of color and write the history of young people who will be our future leaders – especially young women who are becoming change agents in their communities and the world.
When I’m feeling tired or uninspired and sometimes challenged, I remember the stories of the students I mentored. Some stay in contact, and I get to see them become young adults – in college, working, starting families – and I remember all the obstacles they’ve overcome. I was even invited to high school graduations, some where there were no parents there to cheer for them.
So, I hope that whatever it is you are doing in your career or passion project, that it’s meaningful work in your lifetime.
Have you experienced the weight of doing something purposeful in your life? What is meaningful work you aspire to do but haven’t made time for it?Leave a Comment