By Ari Pak, MD Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
This winter season, AALEAD youth in Maryland chose “Winter Nostalgia” as the theme for our 2017 AALEAD Winter Holiday Party. Following the lead of our AALEAD youth, Maryland AALEAD staff wanted to provide a chance for us all to slow down, take pause, and reflect on our journeys. Winter can be a time of celebration, hardship, looking back, and choosing to move forward. While nature seems to slow down during winter time – the leaves fall from the trees, the plants cease to grow, animals go into hibernation – we don’t always have the chance to do the same. During winter, it is important for us to mimic nature and be still in order for us to connect with the stories that brought us here. These stories are the building blocks of who we are today, why we are here, and what we can grow into creating.
AALEAD Maryland staff want to share some of our stories and memories with you, our AALEAD family. During a season sometimes so focused on material gifts, I propose that some of the best gifts we can offer and receive are the experiences we get to share with each other, and all of the experiences that we’ve had which make us who we are today. We hope that, no matter what your winter season looks like, you are able to take time to remember something meaningful from your past winters. As we reflect on the same question with our youth and staff, we encourage you to do the same in answering:
What is an important winter memory which shapes who you are today?
Mecca, MD Middle School Program Coordinator:
Winter used to be kind of a let-down for me. I’m a Sagittarius and my birthday is exactly a month before Christmas (right as fall transitions into winter). My mom would go all out for my birthday and birthday parties, but when Christmas came I was met with “It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’s birthday!” Then, I would be bundled up in my nicest clothes, ushered off to a church service, before ending the day with community service.
As I got older, I began to feel that there’s really something special about the space and time post-Thanksgiving, but pre-New Year’s Day. As if the planet is giving us all one last chance to do something Wild, Crazy, and Fun (W.C.F.) before the reality of January calls everything back to order. Since sophomore year of high school, traveling has been my W.C.F. thing and my most consistent holiday tradition! During school break, I would look forward to visiting family and friends in foreign places. That’s why last year I jumped at the chance to travel to South Africa with the Young AfricanA Leadership Initiative (YAALI) at Howard University.
When we first landed in Accra, Ghana (to re-fill on fuel) I blinked back tears while looking out of the plane window and felt unworthy to be given the opportunity to witness the birthplace of humanity. I’ll never forget the memories of Pretoria, Soweto, and Cape Town, of my fellow HU peers, of the men, women, and children of South Africa who gave me the opportunity to lovingly exchange experiences across the diaspora. These memories will stay with me always. They help me to see the world in new ways and inspire me to incite the same feelings of self-love and pride that I felt to the youth I get to work with in programs each week!
Shanice, MD Middle School Coordinator:
Watching snow fall from my window is my favorite winter memory! I like the quietness and stillness when it snows. The beauty of this scene only lasts for a short time, though. When the snow stops, shoveling begins. This picture shows how I struggled with a 16-inch snowfall from a winter storm in 2014. It’s an important memory for me because I got to hang out with my father and brother in the cold weather while my mother prepared our family’s favorite meal, “hot pot” (a stew of meat and vegetables) for us to celebrate all our hard work after we finished shoveling.
Diane, MD High School Program Coordinator:
Growing up, I always associated winter with snow. Growing up in Maryland, we certainly had our fair share of snowstorms and snow days. My sister and I always woke up super early (5am easily) to check if we had school. If we didn’t, we immediately went back to sleep for a few more hours. When we finally woke up, we would rush to put on our snow gear and play outside in the snow. Personally, the idea of snow was much more attractive than actually being in the snow. Nonetheless, with an unexpected day off of school, I had to make sure I took advantage of it. I only lasted maybe 2 hours out in the snow before the cold would take over and my whining became unbearable for all parties involved. When I made the trek back inside the house, I would spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate curled up on the couch watching all the TV shows I usually missed while at school. The picture is of my sister and I from a snow day in 1997.
YLan, MD Middle School Program Coordinator:
The winter season is particularly special for me as my memories largely center around family time. My brother was born around this time of the year, the only winter baby in the family. My sister and I would switch between singing Karaoke and playing Pokemon to making silly faces to get a laugh out of our brother.
Ari, MD Programs Manager:
Winter in my childhood, like most of my childhood experiences, is a montage of memories I have with my sister, Alexis. Alexis is three years older than me, and no matter what was going on in our lives, we were always getting into some adventure together. During winter time, I remember climbing into Alexis’ coats and pants from previous winters, feeling excited to be wearing something of my older sibling’s, and running out into the snow with her by my side. We built snow forts, acted out snow excursions and rescue missions, and explored the wooded area around our house in youthful wonderment at the crisp white landscape. Winter memories remind me that my sister was always by my side. Regardless of the literal or figurative winter storm falling around us, we were always able to create a safe world with each other. It reminds me how important support systems are for us to thrive- even before I know what a support system was, I was privileged enough to have that in my sibling. Sometimes we find that exactly what we needed was right beside us all along. It is my hope that this season that folks are able to take pause, notice the supports which might exist for them, and to really trust in and lean on those supports. You deserve to be supported and seen; wishing that for you in this season of slow growth.
2016 AALEAD MD Holiday Party
From all of us at AALEAD, we wish for you warmth, rest, healing, and growth this winter season. One tradition and memory we look forward to continuing to is our Annual AALEAD MD Holiday Party taking place this Friday, December 15, 2017. Youth will share their passions during the Youth Talent Showcase, youth and staff across sites will share stories and dinner, and youth will continue to shine in leadership roles such as MC-ing the event and leading other parts of the day. These memories we make every year remind us that we can create the support systems we need to thrive.