Every day, Ademola Ekulona works to transform the lives of inner-city youth. As program - coordinator of the Kujichagulia Center in Baltimore, Maryland, he provides young men with the resources and mentorship they need to escape cycles of violence and pursue meaningful careers.
“One of our clients,” Ademola recalls, “hadn’t been to school in nearly a decade. He didn’t have a high school diploma, and he needed to turn his life around. We helped him get his GED in two months. We enrolled him in a coding program that targets inner-city youth. He’s now on his way to getting a job in the video game industry after he finishes the training course.”
Success stories like this are common at the Kujichagulia Center. An outreach division of the Sinai Hospital in Northwestern Baltimore, the center inherits its name from the Swahili word for “self-determination.” It has been providing violence intervention and youth development services to residents of area code 21215 since 2014.
The Kujichagulia Center partners with VirtualJobShadow.com (VJS) to empower individuals, like the young man mentioned earlier, to become career-conscious and career-ready. “One of our main focuses is coaching victims of violence to develop a work ethic, find a job, get a job, and start a job,” says Ekulona. The work isn’t easy, and the center’s team of professionals faces a broad spectrum of challenges in accomplishing their mission.
Serious physical injuries, psychological trauma, a lack of resources, and social stigmas are some of the obstacles that encumber Kujichagulia Center youth. None of this daunts Ekulona. “Inner city males are often thought of as one type of person. And, in some regards, they want you to think that,” he explains. “But I don’t. They can’t hide things from me. And when we establish relationships, they begin to see other possibilities for themselves.”
VirtualJobShadow.com helps them explore these possibilities. When Kujichagulia Center clients watch the platform’s job shadowing videos, they become aware of aptitudes and passions they didn’t know they had. The young man Ekulona mentioned earlier? His interest in coding was sparked by the VJS videos of software developers.
Kujichagulia Center participants who have predetermined areas of interest explore VJS to crystallize their understanding of potential career pathways. “We had a guy who, at first, said he wanted to be a long-distance truck driver,” recalls Ademola. “After we showed him the transportation and logistics videos on VJS, he decided he should go into repairing trucks instead.”
Job shadowing videos do more than help Ademola’s clients dream bigger. They also give substance to his clients’ dreams. “Our young men are able to see what it’s really like to be a professional. They get their questions answered, and they become aware of the adjustments that people have to make because of their jobs.” Once they gain an understanding of what they need to do to achieve their goals, Ademola’s clients can make progress in a concerted, methodical way.
The resume builder on VirtualJobShadow.com serves as concrete evidence of this progress. Though the young men enrolled in Kujichagulia Center programs may not begin with very many credentials, they work hard to acquire new skill sets and qualifications over time. By saving different versions of their resumes, they can document, reflect on, and celebrate the changes they’ve made.
They can also apply for internships, apprenticeships, and jobs. This is critical both because it affords them valuable work experience and because it provides them with a sustainable way of supporting themselves. As Ademola points out, “When you’re seriously injured, like many of our clients are, you can’t do the kind of physical work that a lot of young men rely on around here. You need something that will allow you to heal.”
The individuals served by the Kujichagulia Center do heal. They emerge from the program driven and self-actualized, capable of pursuing their passions, supporting themselves with meaningful careers, and contributing to the health and wellness of their Northwestern Baltimore community. VirtualJobShadow.com is honored to advance the Kujichagulia Center’s mission of helping young men to become positive, contributing members of society.