High school student shares how the League has helped make his dreams come true
From an opportunity to work on a Lyric Opera production to his first plane ride to an overseas excursion to China, 17-year-old Arek Adams credits the Chicago Urban League with making some of his dreams come true.
Adams has participated in the League’s Project Ready Program for three years and has benefited from college prep workshops and out-of-state college tours. In 2017, he was selected as one of 24 youth ambassadors for the Chicago Urban League’s Student Mission Trip to China. This year, thanks to a partnership between the League's Empower Youth! initiative and Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited, an arm of the Lyric Opera, Adams and 30 other young people from around Chicago are learning all aspects of an opera production, including performance, costuming and set design. On May 31, they will share their personal stories through music, art and dance in a live performance at the Lyric Opera House.
“We’re getting to learn and put it to use on a big stage,” said Adams in a recent news feature on WGN-TV. “Nobody our age, or a part of this program or that really looks like us is going to get to do (something like this).”
Adams, a senior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, recently shared how the League’s 2017 Student Mission Trip to China fulfilled a desire he’d had since preschool.
"When I was in preschool, I would watch the summer Olympics and be amazed by all of the participants from other countries. I sat and wondered about their day-to-day lives and how it compared to mine. Before long, I was in love with other cultures, and I wanted to travel the world. I knew that I could've done the research on a computer, but nothing would compare to being there, engulfing myself in the culture.
I would dream about flying to Spain, China, and my personal favorite, Iceland. Not only did I dream about them, but I made it my goal to travel the world into my teenage years and when I grew up, but then reality hit. I grew up in a single parent household with 2 older brothers where money was hard to come by. There are many times where we didn’t even have enough money to pay for the gas bill, so I had to go to my grandparents’ house just for a warm shower. To put it simply, there was no way that we could afford an international trip, so I set my sights on smaller goals, like going on college tours and seeing the country.
As a sophomore, I joined a program as a part of the Chicago Urban League. When I joined, I had no idea how much they would do for me. I first realized the resources the League could offer me when we boarded a plane and flew to Florida to visit 5 colleges. I made it my goal to attend any out-of-state workshops the organization had to offer, no matter how rigorous the selection process. I was serious about seeing as much of the country as I could, but always kept my mind on my original goal to leave the country.
Every year, the Chicago Urban League does a student mission trip where they take a group of students out of the country, for free, and I applied. I was confident throughout the entire process that I would be selected, but on April 2, 2016, I got the rejection email. I felt like my dream had been ripped out of the palm of my hands, while everyone texted one another trying to see who else was accepted, I sulked in my own self-pity and disappointment.
I continued to apply for every out-of-state opportunity that I could, but kept my failure in the back of my mind. To this day, I don’t know if that helped or hurt me. When the next Student Mission Trip application process opened, I did the exact same thing that I had done the year before, with no noticeable differences. When the decision emails came out, I wasn't as ecstatic to check them, remembering what had happened the year before. After a few hours, I finally checked my email and… I GOT IN. It didn’t seem real to me until the morning of July 1st, the day we were leaving.
As I boarded what would be a 13-hour plane ride, I was thinking about all of the wrong things, specifically, I hoped whoever was next to me on the plane smelled good, and wouldn’t hog the armrest. When we landed, I was in awe, everything looked and smelled different, even the air. Early morning the next day, we drove to the Great Wall of China, and me and a group of friends walked all the way to the top. I looked down, and I finally thought about that little boy, sitting on the couch, surrounded by his family with a dream. My dream had finally been realized. It wasn't complete, but it had a definite start.
I was happy for him, but it was bittersweet. I know, that I'm not the only child with a dream, but not the financial resources to fulfill it. I wondered what the difference was between that boy and me now. After a long while, I realized, it was the Chicago Urban League. Everything they'd exposed me to, everything they'd allowed me to do, led me to this point. Without them, my dream would have stayed a dream. The importance they've had on me CANNOT be understated. They've become like a family, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to join a free program that could expose them to things that you wouldn't be able to experience otherwise."
Want to help make a difference in the life of a young person? Here are a few ways:
$500- One month's worth of hot food for youth participating in the League's Project Ready Middle School program
$1,500- One family outing for parents & their children through the League's Parent Empowerment Program
$2,500- One cultural awareness/enrichment outing for youth participating in the League's Project Ready High School program
$2,500- One month's worth of college admissions/access counseling for first generation college students in the League's Project Ready College program
$2,500- Field Trip for 25 middle school students in the League's Youth Investor/Entrepreneur Project to the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale trading floor or the Chicago Board of Trade floor
$500- Field Trip for 25 students in the League's Project Ready Middle School program
$5,000- Five Scholarships for nontraditional OR undocumented students through the League's Scholarship program