America Yahya is a community activist and youth leader at Voyageur College Prep in Detroit, Michigan. Sometimes the only way to feel acknowledged and empowered is to show your scars.

I was raised in Detroit, in a working-class, immigrant family of eleven, while attending an isolated and limited charter school. My struggles have scarred me. But as a someone who expects a lot from herself, I tend to be optimistic in the face of obstacles—I find it’s a waste of energy to even think of giving up or backing down.

All the energy I possess has been used for hope, optimism, inner and outer strength, endurance, and much patience and determination. At every opportunity I am sure to place integrity as my number one guide—at work, in the classroom, at home, or even simply grocery shopping, one needs to have integrity. Integrity is the root from which my character grows and the source of who I am. I believe that if people place their trust in my work, then it is my duty to be reliable, honest and trustworthy. Integrity may be just one word but it is the building block of my character and personality.

As a Muslim Yemeni-American woman, I am aware of the doubt society has in me. Not only am I female, but I am also the youngest of nine siblings in a traditional family belonging to a culture that discourages women from seeking an education and creating something out of themselves. With that in mind, I have built my character to be stronger in its will to move forward and its determination to succeed. My character revolves around the saying: “It is always greener on the other side.” I love to be optimistic, happy, and am always ready to try something new that might teach me a lesson and contribute to my future.

As a Muslim Arab-American, a victim of cruel post-9/11 treatment and a resident of an underserved and underrepresented city, I have a role to play in promoting a more empowering, understanding and cooperative society, beginning right in my Detroit community. It’s not unusual to find me involved in many programs and organizations because I have made it my goal to flourish and serve.

Currently I serve as a youth member in a number of groups dedicated to connecting and mobilizing local citizens, such as New Detroit: The Coalition, the Partnership for Youth steering committee, JIRAN (Join in to Revitalize Arab American Neighborhoods), Unity in our Community Timebank, and Bridging Communities Incorporation. I also serve as the President of the Chadsey Condon Community Organization Youth committee, a group aiming to empower and guide the youth of our community through service and education. I’ve work part-time as a Student Aid employee at Boys and Girls Club of America, where I help other youths learn and have fun.

Apart from volunteering in the community, I also take leadership in school as the Secretary of my Student Government and a rising board member of the National Honor Society. I have been a representative in the Student Advisory Council for three consecutive years and have played varsity volleyball since my freshman year. I’ve always believed that being a leader in and out of school would set an example for all my fellow schoolmates, and I have become such a leader, one that leads by example and not just words. I have inspired many peers and younger students, particularly females in my school to fight against the unfair traditions imposed by our culture and to accomplish our dreams. When I first became involved in breaking cultural boundaries and shifting stereotypes, I regarded my family as an “enemy”—today, they are my greatest advocates and allies of my work.

I have come a long way in my fight against a stagnant school that did not allow me the space and support to unleash my inner passions. Now I continue to expand my influence and will work beyond college, into the real world. My brazen scars have been the driving force of my love and passion to serve and empower.

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