More than skin color and ancestral lineage connect Black youth in the United States to other nations like South Africa. According to Meisha Robinson, founder and executive director of I Am We Are (IAWA) – a nonprofit organization that provides youth with social engagement, global awareness, and economic freedom – Black youth across the African Diaspora fall victim to stark rates of unemployment.
“It saddens me, as a Black American, to be in South Africa that is 20 years out of apartheid, and then to be in the U.S. and we’re 200 years out of slavery, and realize we’re going through the exact same thing,” she said.
As a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and senior-level marketing manager in Benin, a country in West Africa, and South Africa, Robinson, a Germantown, Md.-native said before establishing I Am We Are, much of her time centered on community outreach and starting youth groups. “I was working with these kids that I thought were absolutely brilliant, and when I got back to the states, I was devastated to see so many of them struggling to accomplish their dreams,” said Robinson.
I Am We Are was established in 2015 and encourages academic excellence and matriculation through high-school to increase youth entrepreneurship and foster holistic development. Inspired by those she met during her stint with the Peace Corps, Robinson said she was determined to pursue God’s calling and her purpose. “It wasn’t because they didn’t have the drive. It wasn’t because they weren’t motivated. It was just they didn’t know how to get it,” she said.
Although IAWA is in its beginning stages, since its inception two years ago, Robinson said the nonprofit has done well, as it is currently hosting its fifth empowerment camp in South Africa. The Bokgoni Empowerment camp, a career development and educational retreat for high school students, ran from April 3-April 15.
Robinson said she and her team visited schools in South Africa to gauge interest. She added that many of the youth who participate in IAWA are struggling to advance to the next levels of their education due to the poor condition of the nation’s school systems. Per the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, despite having a “no-fee” public education system, South Africa ranks 75th out of 76th on their list of national education systems.
Robinson recalls one young girl’s story, whose plight with education epitomizes the country’s dire academic conditions. Because of poor student-to-teacher ratios, Robinson said the girl found a means to pursue her education on her own. “She stayed after school everyday, goes home, eats dinner, then wakes up at 3 o’clock in the morning and gets ready to go to school,” Robinson said. The girl, with the help of Robinson and others, transferred to a more rigorous and better-equipped charter school.
Robinson said one of her goals is to connect the experiences and narratives of Black youth across the African Diaspora, especially when considering the fight for receiving a high-quality education.
The nonprofit’s financial and operational support, Robinson shared, comes from her family, friends, generous donors, and communities in the U.S. and South Africa. Currently, the organization is 100 percent volunteer-based. Robinson said she is in talks with larger organizations whose work is like IAWA’s mission and values, to create collaborations.
The IAWA’s fundraising goal for 2017 is $100,000. So far, the organization has raised $5,000.
When she isn’t splitting her time between U.S. and South Africa to promote the message of IAWA, Robinson balances two other jobs, which she said is a part of keeping afloat as a nonprofit founder. “That’s the entrepreneur’s challenge,” she said.