By Ariel Chrysann
Special to AFRO

Have you ever wondered if you’re in the right place doing the right thing? I know I have, a few times to be exact, especially when I look back and see that I haven’t accomplished as much as I would have hoped. Sure, I went to work everyday, maintained a steady job for a number of years, paid my bills and took care of myself, but I couldn’t measure my success on that. It wasn’t a job I wanted to build a career out of. I was an expendable worker and the company was an expendable job.

I entered ‘free IT programs’ into Google and stumbled upon Year Up. I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a scam, so like many questionable businesses I looked for reviews on it, and any other information I could gather. I found an article about a boy who was 18 years old and homeless. He said that the Year Up program changed his life and gave him opportunities that he didn’t have before.

Year Up interns Jessica Crockett, Shawntae Aye and Keara Whitehead. (Photo Ariel C.)

Founded in Boston by Gerald Chertavian in 2000, Year Up is a non-profit Professional Training Corps (PTC) program determined to close the opportunity divide for urban youth between the ages of 18-24. The “opportunity divide” describes the barriers that can hinder people from securing a meaningful well-paid career. These barriers like your economic status, your neighborhood and your educational background. In 2010, Year Up touched down in Baltimore in partnership with the Baltimore City Community College (BCCC).

The application process was simple and I applied to Year Up and to BCCC online, completed my FAFSA and wrote the “why” essay. My essay centers around my desire to do something different and be better for myself so that I can build something for my daughter. I attended two in person interviews and their “Gear Up for Year Up” events that followed. These events encouraged networking, critical thinking and self- reflection from the very beginning of the journey with the aid of “icebreakers” or “activities” which we learned to call “interactives.” 

I loved the interactives because there was always insight to gain when it was over. Hearing others share their perspectives and thoughts of the outcomes was a part that I found particularly interesting. Our Baltimore site offers three tracks business management, cyber security and information technology. After I was accepted into the program, I chose the information technology track. I was a complete novice in the realm of technology, so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  

The students are broken up into three Learning Communities (LC), Destiny, Impact and Legacy. Each LC has their own respective Program Manager (PM), space, culture and chant, but we are still one Cohort 18. We are all on the same Year Up journey, we’re just taking different paths. My PM, Emmanuel Manu was, and still is, awesome. He challenged, supported and inspired us to chase our future. If someone who just met me can believe in me so much then I should be able to believe in myself 10 times more. His honest and humorous personality was welcoming. His first words to my LC when he stepped into the silence of my LC during orientation week was, “It will never be this quiet again.” I silently sat next to Jessica Crockett everyday during that week, we soon became friends. She has helped me with my Google IT certificate training, and was actually one of the first to complete it in my LC. 

Everyone has the potential to do anything, you just have to have the grit to get to the goal. After spending almost eight hours a day, five days a week with the students and staff of the program, I learned just that about my LC family. I saw how we had grown since orientation from the way we dressed to the way we interacted with each other. I worked with Shawntae Aye  often on the newsletter for our LC. We learned the ropes of amateur journalism, and it was a rewarding experience. My marvelous friend, Keara Whitehead has helped to keep me level headed throughout our migration together, she is too wonderful for words. Becoming a Year Up student, and now intern, has introduced me to people I know I can rely on.

I even learned a useful skill like how to replace my broken laptop screen with the guidance of Jonathan Hawkins, a Year Up colleague interning at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a system engineer in cloud services. “They push you. They take your ideas and put them into action,” Jonathan said. It is clear that Year Up wanted us to establish connections with our peers to strengthen our networking skills. 

Receiving valuable tools like that was like a gift that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. The free resources and programs are available for people like me to take advantage, and the possibilities are endless. The saying “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” is something I heard often and is one of the things that has stuck with me.

The outcome of the Year Up program outweighs the rigorous workload. Through the program I have been blessed with free use of multiple resources that I would normally have to pay for like Pluralsight, Google IT and MasterClass. The program has helped me learn how to set goals and be accountable so I can execute my life plans. I’ve also developed my interpersonal relationship and writing skills. It’s not always about what you know, it can be about who you know because if you have the right connections they can help get you the right resources. Be resourceful or be a resource. For more information on Year Up visit

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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