Campus Celebrity: Akilah Ffriend

Akilah Ffriend, you might recognize her from the philanthropy work she’s done over seas, or maybe you’ve seen her giving tours as a student ambassador, or you could possibly have her as your minority advisor. As a junior Health Policy and Management Major, Akilah is not only active in countless organizations around campus but she is also the founder of Rise Leadership Academy, a non profit organization meant for the betterment of youth in St. Thomas Parish, Jamaica. Regardless of how you know her, if you’re familiar with Akilah Ffriend you know she’s doing big things at UNC and abroad.

HC: Tell me a little bit about your organization. What inspired you to start it?

AF: Well, the goal is to build a youth after school center/ leadership development center.

As far as inspiration, in addition to being Jamaican, a lot of my own experiences, whether it be involvement with Prep for Prep, internship opportunities, and even coming here (UNC) were the results of other’s guidance as well as my personal intuition and drive. So, I feel like if more youth are given direction and guidance in regards to formulating their own paths and realizing they have the potential to do something great, then they will.

HC: So have you traveled to Jamaica?

AF: Yes, I’ve been twice. Once this past winter and once for my grandmother’s ninety-sixth birthday party. So, totally different reasons! But this last time I went with the intention of filming kids and learning more about what they wanted because at first I didn’t know that the center was where I wanted to take it, but I knew I wanted to deal with kids. It will be the first center in that area and the first place geared towards kids; I’m going to focus on ages twelve to seventeen. But growing up in the Bronx I feel like I was in Jamaica everyday. Just the culture and everything there is definitely something I connect with.

HC: How has your experience at UNC impacted your involvement in volunteer work and your organization?

AF: I think its more so my own tailoring of my experience at UNC. Meeting different people, getting different viewpoints, and being able to express myself in addition to hearing what others have to say has helped me realize the value in having an idea and going with it. Also, a lot of the experiences I’ve had during my time at UNC have helped me. For example, my freshman summer I went to Tanzania where I dealt with women’s development issues and also started a temporary after school program. That experience really helped me learn how to be apart of a team and make a vision a concrete reality. My sophomore year I went to Ghana for a month and did a lot of volunteer work there as well.  I’ve always been a volunteer/ service oriented type of person, and a lot of my past experiences with that have definitely helped with this organization.

HC: Wow so, basically you’re a world traveler?

AF: Well, I’m all about experiencing the world and making it my own.

HC: Tell me your favorite part of being a student at UNC.

AF: How can I choose just one? I really like how big it is but how small it feels, I like the sense of community here. Growing up in the city I love the idea of making something big your own and having your own niche. Here, I think everyone is a big fish in a big pond, which is so much more valuable than being a big fish in a small pond. Everyone here is a go-getter and I like that a lot.

HC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start an organization like yours?

AF: I say just go get it. Have a concrete idea and a reason you want it. If there is a change that needs to be made, and you’re the best person to make that change then go ahead and put your plans into action.

HC: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

AF: Well, I’ll be thirty in ten years, so I’ll be having a huge bash, and just celebrating life, really. But in terms of the organization, I’d like to have it in more than one location. I mean there are kids everywhere and a lot of them need help. I think a lot of organizations focus on going to large cities that already have plenty of resources, but that’s not necessarily where the problems are. I want to go where there are less resources and where the most help is needed. And in addition to the non-profit, I’d like to have a job that relates to my major, possibly consulting.

HC: What three words would you use to describe yourself, and why?

AF: Driven because I set realistic and profound goals for myself and try to achieve them to the best of my ability.

Charismatic, because I like talking to people, getting new ideas, and making other people feel comfortable so that they can express themselves as well.

And lastly, I’d say fly. but not the stereotypical type of fly. I’m fly because I have a great attitude about life and I am comfortable with myself and exude that to others.

HC: What do you like to do in your free time?

AF: I really like to cook. One of my favorite dishes is stewed peas, its not actually stewed peas, its oxtail and rice and beans. That’s my jump-off.

I like to just hang out with people, whether I am chilling with friends or family I just like to catch up with them. But for me free time is doing something you love or find interesting, so if you love what you do you’re always free. I like doing work for my non-profit, I like studying public health, I like stepping, but it all kind of goes together.

Learn more about Rise Leadership Academy and Akilah’s mission at: http://www.riseleadershipacade...

All images are courtesy of Akilah Ffriend or http://www.riseleadershipacade...