“Farah, Como se dice September en español?” Senora Rodríguez stood in front of our 9th grade Spanish class of 29 students reading the months of the year in Spanish. As I gazed out of the classroom door, I could hear someone trying to get my attention, but could not make out exactly what was being said. “Farah, Como se dice September en español? Farah?!” Everything sounded like it was in a fog. I felt my teacher tap me on the shoulder, and I snapped out of my day dream.

I had been struggling to focus in class for months, ever since the water in my home had been cut off. I felt incompetent. How could I learn to speak a new language when I didn’t know which friend’s house I would get my next warm shower at?  Senora Rodríguez had no idea how weak, stupid, and lost I felt. It seemed as though things were just happening to me, and I had no control over anything in my life. I was labeled as a failure, academically challenged and a drop-out.

Left: Farah Johnson's High School Photo

Due to failing grades, I was asked to leave my dream high school in the 11th grade, one year before graduation. My motivation, mindset and dedication to my education was crushed.

At an alternative high-school called YouthBuild, the Dean of Students, Ameen Akbar commended me for all the struggles I faced and triumphed over. Ameen helped build me back up at my lowest point. He told me that reclaiming my education would change things for me. He always made time for us to talk about my future. He appeared to see things in me that I had thought I lost. Ameen was different. I never had an interaction with an adult that was filled with his level of energy and pride for my education. He convinced me that by showing up every day, despite my struggles, I exemplified perseverance. It was a platform for me grow and  achieve excellence.

I know now that those negative labels were exactly just that…. labels. It only took one person to believe in me to start tearing those negative labels off, and replacing them with new ones that I controlled. Today, I am empowered, inspirational & influential.

As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I am empowered by my story because I can identify with many of my students. When I see negative labels being placed on students, I feel for them.

I inspire my students. I want them to know that they are not alone; they too can overcome their challenges with someone by their side.  As an AmeriCorps member, I get to be that person by their side.  

I am influential because I use my own personal experience to aid other students in reclaiming their educational experience. We control our own success. Statistics and labels shouldn’t dictate our future.

My name is Farah Johnson and I serve at City Year because every child deserves a champion that will never give up on them.

The work of Farah and her team at Thurgood Marshall Pre K-8 is made possible by Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP.


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