Voices from the Movement: Shateka Knight, Bridgeport, CT

In our “Voices from the Movement” series you will hear stories directly from buildOn students, teachers, community members and supporters about why service matters and how it inspires change. In honor of International Women’s Day, buildOn is sharing stories that demonstrate the importance of empowering women, including members of our service learning program.

“Growing up I was tossed around, bullied and no one in my family even graduated from high school. But I use that as an encouragement to just move on,” Shateka Knight says.

Shateka is a senior at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Here, fewer than 60% of students who start end up graduating. Daily attendance is low and 99% of the student body comes from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The school tries to improve every year, but this usually means hiring new teachers and principals.

It’s not the easiest environment to learn in, Shateka says, but she’s worked hard to thrive in such a difficult learning environment. In fact, she is graduating this year and going on to college – a remarkable achievement when you consider the challenges she’s faced outside of school.

Shateka’s parents both passed away when she was young. She spent a few years moving between family members until she was adopted by her best friend’s mom when she was nine.

“She had two kids of her own and there was always a difference in the way she treated us,” Shateka remembers. “I moved back in with my older sister, but still felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. In school, I was bullied so that didn’t make life any better.”

In high school, Shateka began attending buildOn service projects. It meant a lot that she could make a difference by serving a hot meal or spending time with children after school. She was finally part of a community where she was not pressured to be anyone but herself.

“buildOn gave me somewhere I could be and no one cared if how I looked, how I talked, or what I said was different from them. Everyone was friendly and I felt like people looked forward to seeing me every day. It gave me a sense that I was needed,” she says.

Despite fears, Shateka also applied to go break ground on a school in Malawi with buildOn. She wanted to make an impact in the world and prove her family and peers wrong when they doubted that she would actually go on the trip. She was accepted but the process was not without hurdles. Shateka’s passport was still with her adoptive mom. Gathering the necessary paperwork and preparing for the trip was difficult, especially without parental support.

Right when Shateka was ready to give up she heard about Lakei, a buildOn student from New York. After learning how Lakei faced his own challenges to go on a school building trip to Burkina Faso, she was inspired to make sure she went to Malawi.

“[Lakei] lives with his mom, she’s a single mother and has a bunch of kids. I live with my sister who is a single mother and has a whole bunch of kids. My uncle is constantly in and out of jail. His uncles are in jail, and his grandfather’s in jail. Here we are in two different places with similar stories,” she said. “If he did it, why can’t I?”

Today, Shateka is a leader in her school’s buildOn program. buildOn gave her a chance to move past some of the obstacles she faces and find the strength to change her community and her world.

“There is always going to be a kid who might give up, but the thought of service is something different for them. I am graduating as leader in buildOn and my school. I left the country to help build a school in another country. I’m doing all these things and if you look at my past and my family’s history, you would never expect that,” Shateka says.