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Ousmane Diarra – In Their Shoes

BTSPhilly   |   Jun 5, 2020

I just want to start off by saying thank you to everyone here in attendance because if weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here tonight giving this speech. It’s because people support BTS, that the mentors and staff can have such a huge impact on kids. So, thank you again!

         For me, BTS has been more than just an organization; BTS is a family, a community, a safe haven. A place where you can go to learn, seek guidance and get advice; a place where you are always surrounded by positive influences whose sole purpose is to guide you to the right direction.
        My journey started in the second grade. I immigrated from Mali to the United States at the age of seven not knowing any English. I was immediately put into school and in the first few years I was an awful student. I was always at the bottom of my classes because I couldn’t speak or comprehend English. It was frustrating and one day I just decided that enough was enough. I dedicated my whole summer to teaching myself English. It was hard at first, but I just kept working at it until finally the new school year began. I was unrecognizable to teachers because my reading and writing levels had skyrocketed. A couple years removed from being the worst student in my grade, I graduated that middle school valedictorian and made it to the best high school in Philadelphia. My first real obstacle was English, and I pushed through it with grit alone

         Once I got to Central high school, I was immediately overwhelmed. The curriculum was way above my level of education and the students were much more educated than I was. I spent four years catching up to those kids and when I finally caught up, I had made it to Drexel University.

         As you can tell, I’ve been faced with some serious obstacles and disadvantages. I’ve always prided myself with my incessant work ethic but at a certain point that is not enough; opportunity and support has to be present and that’s what BTS was for me. I became involved with BTS in the summer of my junior year. What started out as a simple ACT Prep, developed into a lifelong friendship. There I met my mentor, Eric Freedman, A medical student from the university of Pennsylvania. At first, he was just a mentor, but later he developed into something else: a role model. I’ve never met anyone as educated as he was, and this gave me the opportunity to pick his brain. I was interested in the medical field and he would always share his experiences and give me tips on how to go about chasing my dream. On top of that Eric was the man! He was the one responsible for pulling my ACT score from a 23 to a 28. This may not seem that significant, but this is a difference of 35 more correct questions on the second attempt. So thank you Eric!!

         Eric also helped with the college process. I’m a first-generation U.S college student so my parents couldn’t really help me in that department. What seemed so easy and natural to my peers, was overwhelming and scary to me. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Eric guided me through the whole process and ultimately helped arrive at my destination; I would go to Drexel for Public Health!

         More than a year has passed since this chaotic college process took place, so why am I still apart of BTS? It’s really simple because BTS has become a family. I understand the impact BTS can have on kids and I intend to reciprocate that impact. I honestly would not be where I am today without Eric. So why can’t I be an Eric for some other kid? I realized that I could be an Eric so that’s why I’m volunteering with Beat the Streets. The cycle is coming full circle, I now tutor a reserved kid named Mahamadou; and he is also coincidentally from Mali. I view him as a little brother and that's no surprise because BTS is a family. I see my young self in him and I’m doing my best to guide him. It not just about school homework. It’s much more than that. I want to do the intangibles; be a positive role model and be the person he comes to for help. So I guess that why I’m back volunteering with Beat The Streets. I want to have the same impact on kids that Eric had on me. Thank you