In February, the Clinton Foundation spotlighted important milestones in African-Americans' push for civil rights. We also reported on the NAACP's latest efforts to mobilize Black Church leaders in the fight against AIDS. Now we're looking forward, highlighting a new generation of Black change-makers poised to impact urgent issues in the United States and around the world.
A glimpse of what the future holds can be found at CGI U 2014. From March 21-23 at Arizona State University, more than 1,000 student leaders from all 50 states and over 80 countries will gather to incubate Commitments to Action that address some of the Millennial generation's most pressing concerns. Here are five college students whose big dreams have turned into tangible commitments to improve the world.
Never Too Young to Start(up)
Every entrepreneur needs inspiration. Daquan Oliver received it in droves from his mother, who raised him as a single parent in Westchester, New York. Daquan says that because of her example, he started his first business at seven years old. Now, at 22, he presides over the marketing company Jossle, listed among Business Insider's top college startups.
"As I grew up watching my mother defeat the odds, her drive rubbed off on me," he said. "Subconsciously I became determined to make her hard work worth it."
Daquan's resolve is reflected in his 2013 CGI U Commitment to Action to develop Recesspreneurs, a program that fosters entrepreneurship among Roxbury, Massachusetts middle-schoolers. By empowering the at-risk students to build their own mock companies—complete with ladders to leadership positions and opportunities to incorporate their passions—Daquan hopes to inspire youth to achieve the same upward mobility that his mother worked to provide for him.
"My CGI U commitment derives from a promise I made at the age of 14—that despite all obstacles, I would become successful, and help children like me become successful as well," Daquan said. "Recesspreneurs is the manifestation of that promise."
JOY AGEE, Doctoral Candidate, Biotechnology, Science, & Engineering, University of Alabama in Huntsville
Making STEM Accessible for African-American Girls
In middle school, Joy Agee liked her science classes—but without any guidance, she simply didn't know what to do with them.
Thanks to a mentor, Joy learned about career opportunities in biomedical research during her senior year of college. Now a doctoral student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), she is researching transcriptional regulation in triple negative breast cancer—and inspiring future Black scientists along the way. In 2013, she made a CGI U Commitment to Action to develop a STEM mentoring program for African-American girls from local middle schools. Participants will learn from UAH's undergraduate and graduate STEM students, engaging in hands-on projects in the campus labs.
"I feel like if I can introduce our young girls to women who look like them and who are working in these fields, they can hopefully see themselves having a career in STEM, working in academia and industry," Joy said. "Ultimately, I am trying to give the girls exposure that I wish I'd had early on."
Keeping Student Athletes Safer on the Field
During the Iraq War, Eric Luster's contributions to mission critical operations earned him a Bronze Star. Now the U.S. Army veteran is taking on a new challenge: advancing high-tech solutions as a nontraditional student.
"One of the biggest obstacles is that I don’t fit the mold of a startup CEO or entrepreneur," said Eric, who points out that he's a thirty-something still enrolled in school.
But Eric isn't just any student. In 2013, the computer whiz made a CGI U Commitment to Action to develop impact-detecting sensors that help coaches and players better understand the consequences of head trauma. Designed to fit comfortably inside a football helmet, the computer software will automatically collect data from the sensors and send real-time alerts to medical personnel on their mobile or wireless devices.
With traumatic brain injuries becoming a growing concern in the military and the National Football League, Eric's commitment has the potential to help head trauma's youngest victims. "My CGI U commitment is centered on the world's youth," said Eric, who has a 12-year-old son. "I feel that if we can identify injuries to the brain as early as possible, we can make staying active safer for our youth."
Bringing Higher Education to Low-Income Women
Odunola (Ola) Ojewumi has been recognized by MTV, Glamour magazine, and the Huffington Post for Project ASCEND, the nonprofit she launched to provide financial assistance to low-income women interested in higher education. But what Ola received prior to ASCEND has taken her further than any accolade.
"At age 11, I became the recipient of a heart and kidney transplant," she said. "This experience influenced my desire to use the new life I was given to improve the lives of others."
Ola is fulfilling this desire through a 2013 CGI U Commitment to Action that will scale up Project ASCEND’s international efforts. The initiatives include a college scholarship program for low-income women, a service-centered camp reaching over 100 at-risk girls in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and the collection of over 250 textbooks to donate to women’s education programs in Cameroon.
Her advice for other young people with dreams of making an impact on society? Start now, she says, not when you graduate. "College is where you will be granted the tools, support system, and education to effectively change the world."
Leveraging Waste to Improve the World
Most people would rather not think about animal waste. Daniel Sopdie thinks that’s a huge mistake. Through a 2013 CGI U Commitment to Action, the Cameroonian college student is using plant and animal byproducts to make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees.
Daniel and his team traveled to the Mpaka Refugee camp in Swaziland last summer, training refugees to become biogas technicians and implementing sustainable solutions for the community. To help relieve families from the constant search for firewood, Daniel’s team built a kitchen equipped with smoke-free biogas stoves. They also constructed latrine toilets that stave off diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and infectious hepatitis.
While the logistics of his Commitment to Action may seem complicated, Daniel’s philosophy toward social entrepreneurship is simple. His favorite quote, which comes from his hero—Mahatma Ghandi—has rung true across generational lines: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Daquan, Joy, Eric, Ola, Daniel, and many other students from around the globe will join President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at CGI U 2014 at Arizona State University. Learn more at cgiu.org.