MEET Amanda Ebokosia: Amanda Ebokosia is the founder and chief executive officer of The Gem Project, an initiative designed to prepare youth to step into leadership roles. Ebokosia founded the project in March 2006 when she was only 19 years old, while she was a sophomore at Rutgers University.
Headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, The Gem Project uses educational enrichment programs to empower youth to hone their community and leadership organization skills. Since it was founded in 2006, the Gem Project has held over 30 programs, directly educating over 1200 people. For her work with The Gem Project, Amanda Ebokosia earned a spot on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Ebokosia grew up in a single-parent household, with a mom who went to medical school, worked as a full-time nurse, and raised Ebokosia and her two brothers, one of whom is autistic. She was also a breast cancer survivor. “She made it work, doing all of this by herself. Seeing what my mother did was truly incredible for me,” Ebokosia told us.
“I learned firsthand from my mother that nothing can stop you if you don’t let it,” she continued. “My passion is to do what I can to make sure every child has a mentor, someone who inspires them. This keeps me going, the ability to impact a child’s life.”
Read on for more of our conversation with Ebokosia.
MadameNoire: “Be the Picasso of your life,” is a quote highlighted on your website. What’s the significance of this message?
Amanda Ebokosia: When I think of a Picasso, I think of someone who knows that they have the capabilities to change any situation in their life. It’s up to us to change our lives, despite obstacles we’ve experienced; it’s up to us to become who we want to be.
When I was a child, my mother read a book titled Amazing Grace to me. The book’s main character, a black girl, was passionate about acting. She wanted to play Peter Pan in a school play. However, she was told that she couldn’t play Peter Pan because she was a girl and because she was black. She disregarded naysayers, auditioned for Peter Pan and got the role. Regardless of what others say, we are the painters of our lives.
MN: What are the top three challenges young people face today?
AE: Education. It’s unrealistic to think all children receive the same level of education. There are so many different challenges in education that impact young people’s ability to get better jobs and receive better outcomes in other areas of their lives. A lot of youth in urban communities are struggling, because they don’t have the same resources youth in other communities have.
The second greatest challenge for young people is bullying. It’s more of an issue now than it has ever been. I was bullied growing up. However, back then, social media wasn’t around. Today bullying is 24/7. The issues are more unbearable for young people. That’s why I think more young people commit suicide from bullying today; it doesn’t stop.
With The Gem Project, we address bullying through the Interactive Literacy Program. We discuss different types of bullying (i.e. physical, verbal, emotional, cyber-bullying). We have ice breakers with participants to discuss bullying freely, whether a young person has been bullied or saw someone else being bullied. During discussions, youth weigh in on their definition of bullying, then we discuss why youth think people bully. After that, we address the root of the why people bully, then we work to figure our solutions to bullying. We also do a hands-on activity, where we create a comic book that supports anti-bullying.
The third greatest challenge youth face today is self-image. At the root of everything is self-image. Having good self-esteem can combat a lot of other issues. The typical family in the communities we serve are single-parent households. We find that a lot of our young boys have identity issues. Many don’t have a positive male role model who’s active in their life. Young people need adults to model good behavior for them.