For many young people, summers aren’t just a chance to earn some cash with a part-time job. They’re an opportuntiy to combine passion and perseverance in pursuit of big dreams.
Here are four Raleigh millennials who are embracing summer as a season of personal challenge, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones to find purpose and personal growth – and to make a difference.
They will surely emerge with takeaways of accountability, professional development, social connections and community engagement.
His own stage stage
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Christian Brown will attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall.
To help cover costs, 20-year-old Brown transforms downtown Raleigh into his concert hall on Friday nights and most Sundays, playing his saxophone and guitar and belting out tunes. A hand-written sign urges passersby to drop money into a cardboard box.
“When you have something to risk – our livelihood and comfort – you want it more and take it seriously,” said Brown, 20, who graduated from Enloe High School and studied engineering at Wake Technical Community College for two years.
At Berklee, he plans to study music production.
Until he heads to school Aug. 25, Brown also earns money from Saturday gigs with SoulPlay, a cover band. A GoFundMe campaign is trying to raise money for tuition.
Brave new voice
Hausson Byrd’s summer has been poetic.
Byrd, 18, didn’t return home to Southeast Raleigh after his freshman year at N.C. A&T State University. He stayed in Greensboro, got a job and an apartment, and performed his own poetry at open-mic events.
For good reason.
This week, Byrd’s Gate City Slam Team joined hundreds of young, civically conscious poets and spoken-word artists from across the world in San Francisco for the 20th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. It’s a safe space for intellectual and artistic self-development where young voices speak truth to their stories.
The 2008 and 2010 finales of Brave New Voices aired on HBO.
It’s a big break Byrd realized he wanted once he stumbled on the youth spoken-word movement on campus and in the community.
“Nobody’s going to carry you to your dream,” said Byrd, 18, a graduate of Broughton High School who is majoring in sociology. “I have to do everything in my power to make sure my dream becomes my reality.”
Cameron Nelson will return to N.C. A&T State University in August with real-world experience to complement his classes in business management.
In the spirit of entrepreneurship, and as a first dabble into a career in event planning and promotion, Nelson celebrated his 19th birthday two days early July 15 with Wave Party 2017 at Wilders Grove Youth Center.
Nelson, a 2016 graduate of Millbrook High School, worked to secure a venue, compare quotes from caterers, make a budget for food and a deejay, rent two water slides and buy thousands of water balloons.
He also drafted and signed contracts, handled social media marketing, printed flyers, delivered invitations and adhered to liability laws.
“We get a lot of information in our classes about all the details of running a business, but the real knowledge comes when you actually put it to use – and just do it,” Nelson said. “The knowledge you have from those classes helps, but it’s been a real-world learning experience. And I’ve learned a lot.”
Empowering women with disabilities
The crown Deja Barber wears as Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina 2017 celebrates the accomplishments of women with disabilities and empowers them as advocates.
This summer, Barber, 22, is preparing to compete on a bigger stage for the Ms. Wheelchair America title alongside 30 contestants at the national pageant Aug. 14-20 in Erie, Pa.
“I’ve never really been a girly kind of girl, so actually competing in a pageant ... it’s not my usual thing,” said Barber, who was born with cerebral palsy. “That’s why I did it.”
To get to the national competition, Barber’s social media and word-of-mouth campaigns ask 200 people to donate $10 toward travel and pageant costs. So far, donations are slow but sure, thanks to family, friends, local businesses and fellow 2016 Peace University alumni.
Competition isn’t new to Barber, who played basketball, bowled and competed in track and field at Southeast Raleigh High School. Now she’s on a boccia team.
In college, she sang in the choir, held three Student Government Association offices and joined Gamma Sigma Sigma.
During the national pageant, Barber will interview with judges and deliver a two-minute speech outlining her platform to advocate for post-secondary education for youth and adults with disabilities.
“Your disability doesn’t define you,” she said. “You have to reach for what you want.”