For Kasiemobi Udo-okoye, community service has never been easy–but it is necessary. One of the student speakers at our buildOn Dinner in San Francisco last month, Kasie has transcended remarkable personal trials to become one of the most active of our west coast high school students. “It’s difficult to go to service after a long day of school and then come home afterwards to cook dinner, care for my brother, take care of the house, and do homework for seven classes,” she says. But she adds, “I have never regretted giving my time to buildOn, because doing it has made me a complete human being.” Read the entirety of Kasie’s inspirational speech below!
Good evening. My name is Kasiemobi Udo-okoye, I’m a senior at St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, I live in Oakland, and I’ve been in buildOn since my freshman year, 2007 and an officer since 2008. I’m the first-generation American daughter of a Nigerian mother, who raises me and my four-year-old brother by herself.
[pullquote]Being in buildOn has never been effortless for me.[/pullquote]
I want to make it clear that being in buildOn has never been effortless for me. Because my mom has two jobs, I help raise my little brother when he’s not in school– meaning that I haven’t had a free weekend or holiday since I was in the sixth grade, when my brother was born. Up until very recently my mother was an illegal immigrant, and we’ve dealt with abuse, poverty, homelessness, and the threat of separation. Even now that our life is more stable, the ever mounting pressures of school, and my mother and brother’s dependence upon me, make it difficult to be a fully participating member of buildOn.
It’s difficult to go to service after a long day of school and then come home afterwards to cook dinner, care for my brother, take care of the house, and do homework for seven classes. In addition to the difficulties I face at home and at school, there are emotional difficulties as well. It’s intimidating to step outside of my own problems and approach the problems of others. It’s a lot of work and the only person who can really keep me consistently motivated and excited about it is me.
So why bother? Why do I do it? I’m not always sure, but one of the things that keeps me motivated is my ongoing service project, which buildOn introduced me to: tutoring and supervising kids at St. Martin DePorres school in Oakland. Each weekday from three o’clock to six o’clock, I become responsible for fifteen kids in the kindergarten class. I become at least five different people: maid, disciplinarian, paper puppet doctor, “it” (during tag), and trained parent negotiator (because some people just can’t be convinced that their kid needs more tutoring or can’t handle cheese).
The best thing about the job is that the kids are amazing, walking bundles of manic energy. I love them. I knew I was a positive influence when one of my kids, Josue, who hated math before I came and was constantly in trouble for bullying, started being commended by his teachers for his class work. By my second month he was playing happily with the other kids. He knew I cared about him. “Thanks for being my best friend, Kasie,” he said.
[pullquote]What I gain from buildOn is evidence of the fact that my love for people effectively makes tangible changes for good.[/pullquote]
What I gain from buildOn is firsthand experience and evidence of the fact that my love for people is valuable not just because it’s pleasant or moral, but because it effectively makes tangible changes for good. Genuine respect for human beings is a mechanism for shaping my reality. I believe that empathy and firsthand experience in the community are critical to create a fully good person.
I have never regretted giving my time to buildOn, because doing it has made me a complete human being. I have a strong influence on my world and the part I play in it. This power and perspective came from the same source, which I cultivated in buildOn: caring. You’re nothing until you find your give-a-damn, the motivation you have for going through life, the ability to get over yourself and just care. buildOn is where I’ve found mine, and I can only hope that it helps other kids find theirs too.