Jakya Barnhill ’24: Students of Color Need Role Models

By Caitlin Burns | September 24, 2020

Hi! My name is Jakya Barnhill and I am a first-year student in the SAJE Fellowship cohort. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. I come from a small private school in Philadelphia called Cristo Rey High School. This school has made me into the person I am today. They provided me with an outlet to express myself in many different ways and taught me how to invest in my future with my actions in the present. I was very involved in my school community. I was so involved that my mom would tell me all the time that I “practically lived at school.” I would start my school day at 7:55, and most days I would not get home until about 6:00 p.m. I find it important to be involved in my school community, which has helped me make a huge impact on teachers and peers.

I often go through phases of interest, which has allowed me to become a very flexible person. One interest that I have is music, specifically singing. Music has been a big part of my life, especially in the last four years. I also love to draw and paint, although I am pretty average at it. Another way I express myself artistically is through makeup. I used to be an insecure person and used makeup as a way to hide my insecurities from the world. As I got more confident in myself, I began to use makeup artistically. I used it to stand out instead of blending in with the crowd. Because of these hobbies, I now get to show the bubbly, artistic, and positive person I am. I get to connect with others using all of these hobbies, which is what I am the most passionate about. I just want to impact people even if they don’t realize it.

The phases of interest that I often go through does not only apply to my hobbies. Growing up I had many different dreams and goals that constantly shifted. I wanted to be a dancer, an author, singer, playwright, and so many other things. The one thing that has remained constant in my life is my passion to educate others and inspire others to reach their fullest potential. The first time I taught a class, I was in fourth grade. I loved every second of it. Even when the other kids assumed I just wanted to show off what I knew or kiss up to the teacher, I knew that education was something I not just wanted, but needed to do. As I got older, this passion only grew stronger each day. I would tutor classmates and lowerclassmen often. Nothing in the world was more fulfilling than the moment you knew the person you were teaching finally understood. The satisfaction of that student showing you their improvement makes you feel like a superhero. This is when I began to hone my passion as an educator and learn the difference between a teacher who truly cares about their students, and one who doesn’t want to be there. I was surrounded by so many great teachers and role models. I knew each day that they had wanted to be there and cared about how each student performed. Not only did they care about our academic performance, but they got to know each student and built a relationship with us. That is the type of educator I want to be and the type of environment that I dream of working at.

The last few trimesters of the school year were a very heavy time for all of the students and administrators. The coronavirus had changed our daily routine, but the energy of our school had already changed before the pandemic. Today, there are racial tensions in our society that some people deny or ignore. It never affected me personally until it showed up in my school environment. I went to a school that was mostly attended by minority students. The issue was that there were not many teachers that looked like their students. This was around the time that I heard about the SAJE Fellowship. I already received some acceptance letters from a few colleges, but I was looking for something that gave one of them an edge. Specifically, I was searching for an education scholarship. There are so few education scholarships that it is mind-boggling. I would have assumed there would be more since education in our society is essential. Then I started to get emails from Arcadia. I could not believe that there was a scholarship specifically for educators. It seems too good to be true. It was quite literally perfect for me. The scholarship also focused on the need for social justice, which at this point, was evident in my life. Students of color need to have role models that face the same struggles as them. It shows them that even through adversity, they can better themselves if they work hard and are passionate. Each person may go through different experiences, but I can help students of color conquer the institutionalized racism that affects them in school and the workplace. I am so excited to be an educator, and I am thankful to the SAJE Fellowship for allowing my passion as an educator. I cannot wait to help foster a new generation of students and make a difference in their lives.