College Essay: My Passion

Listen to the digital audio version of “My Passion.”

When I was 13, my parents split up. Our financial situation became difficult. I wanted to help my mom and family, so I began looking for a job the summer before my freshman year of high school. When I found Appetite For Change (AFC), I didn’t know this summer job would shape the rest of my future.

When I applied at AFC, I thought I was applying to be a waitress. I was very wrong. When I first walked through the door, they handed me an apron and spoon and told me to pick a station in the kitchen. We then cooked a meal and discussed changes we want to see in our community.

AFC is a nonprofit organization in North Minneapolis that uses food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change. When I first heard my supervisor say those words, I didn’t understand what she meant. When she mentioned we would be working in agriculture, it almost scared me away. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t expect to see me working in a garden. Despite feeling somewhat uninterested, I knew I needed this job to help support my family.

We worked to help maintain gardens around North Minneapolis; we hosted community cooks and farmers markets. We also held public speaking events around the community. I gradually started to enjoy working at AFC, especially in the garden.

One day, before our garden shifts, one of the youth workers asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I expressed my passion for the music industry. They asked to hear me rap, so I stood up proudly and blurted, “Screamin’ Hot Cheetos and Takis / boy, you better eat your broccoli.” The youth workers laughed, but my supervisor replied, “Aaliyah, that actually sounds really good.”

Afterward, we decided to do a music video for our end-of-the-year project. Our song was called “Grow Food.” This song mattered to me because healthy eating in the black community has rarely been encouraged or even available. Along West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis, there are 38 fast-food restaurants. North Minneapolis meets the definition of a food desert, which is an area where people can’t access fresh produce. Food deserts are mostly found in minority communities. My coworkers and I felt other minority youth around the country could relate to this experience. I wanted to be part of the effort to change how youth view food, and I wanted to use the video to do it.

To come up with our lyrics, we scheduled shifts called cypher circles, where we would freestyle and share ideas until we found something that sounded good. We finshed the video in two weeks and uploaded it to YouTube, where it skyrocketed. We took trips to Boston, New Orleans and New York to perform. We performed for adults and kids, and I felt really proud when kids knew all the words to our song. Their response showed that they heard us and actually took our message seriously.

AFC has influenced my passion for storytelling and giving a voice to people who are never heard. With the “Grow Food” video, I explored that passion, but I want to do more. College offers me the opportunity to do more. By majoring in journalism, I hope to work with people who can help me network and expand my skill set. I look forward to coursework that will allow me to develop leadership skills and continue finding my voice. For me journalism doesn’t mean only one thing. I want to be involved in all aspects of storytelling.

I could never have known that working at AFC would lead to finding my passion and career path. This experience has taught me to avoid dismissing opportunities just because they don’t interest me right away. I have learned to follow my curiosity, and I know that curiosity will serve me in college and beyond.