Alumni Award Winner Mohamed Jalloh On the Importance of Community
I want to start by saying how proud I am to accept the 2022 NAF Next Alumni Award and speak to you all.
I’m originally from Sierra Leone, but I grew up in Guinea, a small French-speaking country in West Africa. In 2011, I settled down in Birmingham, Alabama with my mother and started school at Woodlawn High.
I’m not going to lie to you, I struggled a lot. Because of the language barrier, I had to do double the work. Considering my background, it took awhile for me to realize just how important education is.
After a rocky start to my freshman year, I was introduced to NAF and joined the Academy of Business and Finance. The way the Academy was structured made it possible for me to excel in my studies while providing me with a safe haven.
That’s what is so special about NAF. It is not just about taking classes and getting good grades. It is about building a supportive community that will help you in school and beyond.
As I started to learn how important education is, I also saw how a quality education could put me on a path toward a successful career. Through NAF, I toured businesses like Regions Bank and shadowed a professional financial accountant at Birmingham Waterworks. I also had the opportunity to participate in a mock interview with the Rotary Club. The job I interviewed for may not have been real, but the relationship it led to was, and it has changed my life.
Eddie Friend was my mock interviewer and since then, Eddie has become a supportive presence in my life, helping me get through educational, and emotional barriers. Eddie has left a lasting impression on me, as both a mentor and a friend.
My community is the reason I am here today. I am grateful to Eddie and to the classmates who accepted me and encouraged me to thrive. I am grateful to Ms. Jones, the academy coordinator who opened the doors for me to become successful. And of course, I’m grateful to the people I can trace my entire journey back to: my parents, who have supported me in every way possible.
NAF has given me so much, including an opportunity to give back. NAF provided me with opportunities that allowed me to take part in the farm at Woodlawn High School and introduced me to my current employer, Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Today, as a farm & apprenticeship manager, I get to play the role that others in the NAF community played for me, helping students ignite their passion for learning.
At the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, we use food as a basis for education. Instead of sitting in a classroom teaching students fractions, we bring them outside to harvest food and create recipes using fractions, so they can directly apply what they are learning.
Although students come to me to learn about farming and agricultural knowledge, I am also a resource to them in other ways. I help students decide what career path they want to take, and I connect them to the resources they need — whether that be through resume writing, applying for colleges, completing the FAFSA, or creating a plan for their future, even if they don’t have a clear idea of what their end goal might be.
I emphasize to my students that they don’t have to know exactly where they want to go to start traveling down their road. Even if they do have it all figured out, sometimes life doesn’t work out according to plan. You have to be able to persevere even when obstacles seem challenging and be open to accepting a helping hand. This is what will give you enough strength to weather any storm.
Lastly, I want to leave you all with one final message. Throughout my journey, I have always had community. There was always someone willing to help when I struggled, vouch for me or simply provide guidance. And today, I am lucky enough to get to play that role for others. I encourage all of you to seek a student and find a way to be a part of their community. If you help someone, who goes on to help someone else, who goes on to help someone else, you are creating a ripple effect. Your good deeds and positive reinforcement will be passed on, creating a generation of leaders grounded in community.