When Ayanna McFarland graduated from Whitehaven High School in 2011, she left the Bluff City to pursue higher education. It wouldn't be the last time her hometown would see the budding leader. Now a junior English and secondary education major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., McFarland has returned to her Memphis roots for a good cause.
In its 19th year, the Howard University Alternative Spring Break Program (ASB) added Memphis to its eight-city roster, making it the largest spring break tour in the program's history. While in Memphis, Howard scholars split into two groups to tackle four-day mentoring sessions on health and education with approximately 114 Memphis City School students.
"I think the impact is certainly positive because it provides them exposure to college," said Dr. Jeffery Ryan Futrell, the gang intervention coordinator at Northside High School.
"Hearing the experiences from their own peer groups is really important. It's additional exposure for our scholars at Northside."
In breakout sessions, high school students listened to real-life experiences from the Howard mentors. Topics included financial responsibility, time management and even the life-altering adjustment of having to do your own laundry.
"Being 18 doesn't make you grown. Grown is when you pay your own bills and pay for your own stuff," noted one Howard volunteer during a discussion on responsibility.
With a planning process that took more than one year, creating such a large event in a new city was no easy task. McFarland found opens arms and helping hands in the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals (MULYP).
"She (McFarland) gave me a call and wanted to partner with us," said Erik Henneghan, MULYP Youth Mentoring & Development Chair. "I looked it over it (the ASB program) and saw that they've been to New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and oversees. I thought, why not bring that program to Memphis?"
As one of Memphis' largest networks of young professionals, and having recently launched its own mentor program, the partnership between MULYP and Howard University was an easy fit.
"To best align the Memphis community for continued advancement, MULYP must bring the great ideas and fresh perspectives of the city's young and emerging leaders to the conversations that are shaping the future of this community," said Henneghan.
For McFarland, the collaboration between the two groups is only the beginning.
"What I tried to do was to lay the foundation so that we can come back year after year and it gets better year after year," she said.
"Next year, I'll actually still be the site coordinator for ASB Memphis and I'm going to train up the next leader to take my position for 2015."
(Follow Nicole R. Harris @NicTheEditor.)