“It’s not easy to recognize that you’re the author of your own life. That’s a really big responsibility. But it is also full of possibility.”
Skye Nicholson said this as co-emcee of the Foundation for Youth’s annual “Great Girls, Wonderful Women” luncheon on Thursday.
The event marked the banquet’s return to in-person attendance after going virtual for two years due to the pandemic. The event was held at FFY’s Hope Avenue location and was also live streamed to schools, allowing students who couldn’t attend to watch.
The proceeds from the event, which is now in its eighth year, benefit the FFY Scholarship Fund and allow girls to participate in FFY programming even if registration fees are prohibitively expensive for their families.
Nicholson is a life coach at (Souls’ Truth Coaching) in Columbus, was co-emcee alongside Emily Wart, who is a sophomore in high school and FFY junior staff member.
The two, along with keynote speaker Hanna Omar, encouraged audience members and young girls in particular to live out the event theme, which was “Write Your OWN Story.”
The event kicked off with a video message from Koryn Griewe, who recently graduated from Columbus East after breaking an all-time scoring record on the girls’ basketball team.
Griewe discussed her own experiences and advice for young girls. She also touched on a recent setback she experienced.
“This summer, I was two weeks into my college basketball workouts when I injured my knee,” she said. “I tore my ACL, and the next week, I had surgery to repair it.
In that moment, I could have given up. But I decided to take a different route. I started focusing on how I could come back even stronger. Being a great girl doesn’t mean you always have to be perfect.
Being a great girl means that you can push through anything that comes in your way.”
Following the video, Wart and Nicholson spoke about their own experiences and what they’ve learned about writing their own stories — literally, in the case of Nicholson, who has self-published a memoir of poems called “Unexpected Alchemy.”
“I get to chose what my life experiences mean,” she said. “Poetry has helped me to take challenging or difficult experiences in my life and turn them into art — so like turning something ugly into something beautiful.
I get to decide that I am not defined by the obstacles in my life but rather how I’ve responded to them.”
Wart is not sure what her future holds but said that she’s taking a cosmetology class and wants to be a make-up artist.
“It’s not the path most would go down,” she said. “It’s definitely not the most stable path. It’s what I want to do, though, and it’s what I’m passionate about.”
Wart advised her audience that it’s important to go after what you want, make your own decisions, ask for help, and take criticism with a grain of salt. She added that young girls shouldn’t feel like they need to start planning for their future careers right away and should take the time to enjoy being kids.
Following a brief creative exercise, audience members heard from Hanna Omar, who works in JP Morgan Chase Bank’s government banking group and is an advocate for the Muslim community.
She was born in the Bronx to immigrant parents with little education who struggled with financial difficulties, community violence and crime, overburdened health systems, underfunded schools, and racism.
According to Omar, the Bronx is New York’s poorest borough, with dropout rates that are twice as high as the rest of the state. While the Omars hoped to give their children a better life, society did not have lofty expectations for the children in their community.
“And a young Arab, Muslim girl from the Bronx was definitely not supposed to do much with her life,” said Omar. “No one believed that we could finish school, go to college, have a career or make any kind of difference in our communities.
There wasn’t really much of a precedent for it. Especially with everything around us systemically put in place to prevent our success.”
This left her with a choice — falls into the trap of other people’s expectations, or forges her own path. She chose to do the latter and said that she didn’t do it alone. She had the support of her mother, who was widowed young but worked to support Omar’s education despite the challenges before her.
“She knew, and she often told us, ‘You can have everything taken away from you in this life, but as long as you have an education, you’ll be fine,'” Omar said. “‘That’s the one thing no one can take away from you,’ she always said”.
Omar was the first woman in her family to complete high school, college, and two master’s degrees. Nonetheless, she faced new challenges. She was eager to get involved in the community after moving to Columbus in 2011.
However, when she scheduled a meeting with a female executive to discuss career opportunities and how she might fit in, the woman took one look at Omar and told her she’d be better off staying in New York.
Omar was faced with a decision once more: whether to let this woman define her or to define herself. She chose the latter option and was able to find groups and individuals in the community who welcomed her and supported her.
Omar said “So much for going back to New York.”
She ended up encouraging her audience to find people who support their stories and not to let failure keep them down.
“Young ladies, pick up your pens, start your journey, and continue writing a story that is authentically your own.”