The Path to Community Leadership

This month’s thought leader piece is written by Ogbai Afeworki, a former refugee from Ethiopia who was one of the first graduates of the Fugees Academy. He also served on New AP’s Project RISE Americorp team, as is an emerging community leader.

I was born in Ethiopia to an Ethiopian mother and Eritrean father. Growing up in a refugee camp as a child was very difficult. I didn’t really have a childhood. I had to mature at a very early age. When I turned 10 years old, my family and I resettled to Georgia’s Clarkston community. When I first came, it was really hard for me to adjust to society and my new community. I attended three different schools within a year. When I turned 11, I enrolled into a new school in the Clarkston community—The Fugees Academy, a place that would change my life for the better. The Fugees Academy was founded in Clarkston in 2010, it’s a school dedicated to empowering the minds and rebuilding the lives of young refugees through rigorous education and community sports. At Fugees, I learned so much. I learned how to be a leader. Since the beginning, the teachers allowed me to see my true potential. I learned to how believe in myself and I gained a new confidence for learning that I didn’t have before coming.

I attended Fugees from fifth to twelfth grade and was one of the four students that were a part of the academy’s first graduating class in 2016. During my junior and senior year, I was an AmeriCorps member at Fugees along with New AP’s AmeriCorps members. As an AmeriCorps member, I served as an afterschool teacher, soccer coach, and youth development leader. At Fugees, the students speak different languages and in the beginning it’s hard for us to communicate with each other. But one language we all understood was soccer.

After graduating from Fugees, I enrolled at Georgia State University’s Clarkston Campus. I was glad that I could begin getting college credit while still being involved in my community. This past April, many units in Clarkston’s Willow Branch Apartments caught on fire, leaving over 34 people displaced from their homes. Several Clarkston residents and I were able to fundraise over $16,000 to help relocate the families to other apartments in Clarkston. I personally worked to assist three families in relocating to new homes.

I recently created a short documentary titled “UNITED DREAMERS” (2019) that spotlights the Clarkston youth at Fugees and our love for soccer. My film features students and coaches from the academy and our experiences, and why we play soccer as a way to build community. I hope to create a true representation of Clarkston’s youth and the talent and potential we possess. My favorite part of my film is how my Fugees team and I were able to get 18 tickets donated by Atlanta United so students could attend a game in the newly built Mercedes Benz Stadium.

After obtaining my associate’s degree this fall, I plans on transferring to GSU’s Atlanta campus to receive my Bachelor’s of Arts in Film and Media. I hope to continue creating inspiring films on cultural representation and community. To watch UNITED DREAMERS (2019), please visit this link.

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