By: Karimah Omer
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens
When I first started my fellowship with GreenLight, I wasn’t certain what my “greenlight” meant – what makes me do what I do? Throughout my year-long journey with the Bay Area team, I developed my own greenlight and discovered new ways of how I want to impact my community … and the world.
Around the time of joining GreenLight, I also began a master’s program with hopes of broadening my horizons. I will learn more robust and ethical ways of running a business. However, my ultimate goal is to start a nonprofit to support first-generation college students navigating the financial path of staying in college and graduating. Being with GreenLight while also being a full-time student encouraged me to see the combined value of obtaining higher education to bring the best resources and knowledge to my community. Pushing with the “if this journey can start with me, it will continue with others” mindset allowed me to explore my resources and identify what I can bring back to better support those around me.
But then COVID-19 happened.
Shortly after reaching six months with GreenLight, my classes quickly shifted to virtual learning. During that time, my father suffered from chest pains and had to have an emergency open-heart surgery to relieve some fluid buildup in his aortic valve. So, where there once was a plan, life completely shifted to meet the moment.
GreenLight Bay Area decided, too, to meet the moment of the pandemic and uprisings; they decided to conduct an accelerated selection cycle. As a vast expanse of inequities began to surface in the Bay Area, GreenLight rapidly responded with a modified approach to their funding – and they did it quickly. To assist with the process, I researched food insecurity and the digital inequities as amplified and impacted by COVID and beyond. These two pressing issues hit close to home. It wasn’t long ago when my family first saw a computer in our household. It was important to me to find out how many students in the Bay Area were affected by the shift to online classes, if some families could not afford the internet, let alone a computer to continue their online education.
Alongside, many students relied on school meals as their only source of nutrition, shifting to online classes disrupted the number of meals they would have on any given day. GreenLight also noticed the essential need for exploration of both issues. Bridging the digital divide and ensuring families have food on the table are two issues that go hand in hand, you simply cannot ignore one and favor the other.
I will forever be grateful for the amount of support I received from GreenLight during difficult times. GreenLight provided time when it was needed – check-ins became my place of comfort, and I felt confident in being vulnerable.
I ended the school year with a 4.0 GPA, my father is doing well, and I helped Greenlight accomplish something that they had never done before. GreenLight understands what it means to represent and create reliable resources. A strong team means a strong desire, which leads to a healthy community. By providing me with time and support, I was able to see even further how much my community needs and what we lack in resources.
As I reached the end of my tenure with GreenLight, I had used the skills I gained to extend a hand to my neighbors and the broader community-at-large. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, my close friend and I raised over $60,000 to support small Black-owned businesses in the Bay Area. Using skills I gained at GreenLight, I drafted a mission statement, created a scale for distributing funds, and worked closely with a small team to listen to the community and meet the moment. I also launched a small project to educate my community on financial literacy to avoid falling into dark places due to financial needs and trying to understand the power of their own money. I was recently awarded the Solomon Scholarship, which supports qualified master’s candidates accepted into the Lokey School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College. The scholarship will allow me to focus on my studies without the worries of working multiple jobs.
As I prepare for my final year of my master’s program, I can proudly say I live by my own greenlight: always show up and represent a community that looks just like me by amplifying their voices through my actions.
Just as Dickens said, if I can lighten the burdens of my communities’ suffering, it will all be worth it and not useless.