November 19, 2013

Omolade ’14 Takes Service to Boston, Brooklyn and Beyond

Omolade in South Africa

Nearly halfway through her senior year, Renee Omolade '14 is showing no signs of slowing down. An active member of the College's Black Student Union (BSU), the sociology major spent the past summer in South Africa and Brooklyn and is currently involved with a number of community organizations, both through Emmanuel and beyond. She is using her coursework, extracurricular activities and life experiences to mentor and empower young people in the black community.

Omolade arrived at Emmanuel planning to study political science and law, but an Intro to Sociology course set her academic and career trajectory on a different path.

"In that class, I was exposed to all of these issues that had affected me my entire life," she said. "Studying it became a way to learn more about myself."

In the spring of 2013, as the then-treasurer of BSU, Omolade attended the Black Students' Alliance New England Regional Conference at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. The theme of the conference was "Breaking Boundaries: Reconstructing the Perception of Blacks in the Media," with Beverly Bond, the founder and CEO of youth empowerment organization Black Girls Rock!, offering the keynote address. Bond spoke of the portrayal of women of color on television shows such as VH1's "Love & Hip Hop," and how these representations are harmful to society as a whole.

"She talked about how the show portrays black women as angry and unable to resolve issues without resorting to physical means," Omolade said.

Omolade approached Bond after her talk and inquired about potential internship opportunities and was ecstatic when the organization followed up with a position. Through Emmanuel, she was awarded the Travel Fellowship for Advanced Study to intern with Black Girls Rock! in Brooklyn, N.Y. The fellowship provides a grant of up to $3,000 for a student to travel for at least three weeks during the summer in order to pursue an independent study or research project.

Serving as an executive intern for Bond and her assistant, Omolade filled a variety of roles, most importantly assisting with the organization's two-week immersion program, Queens' Camp for Leadership and Excellence (named for Queen Latifah, BGR!'s first donor when it began in 2006). In addition to preparing materials for the camp, she assisted with scheduling and provided support for celebrity guests including singer Estelle. While camp was in session, Omolade served as a counselor for the 13-17-year-old girls.

In the fall, she was invited back to New York to attend the Black Girls Rock! annual award show, which was hosted by actresses Regina King and Tracee Ellis Ross and aired on BET on November 3rd. As a result of the experience, Omolade decided she valued this active, hands-on approach to confronting stereotypes and the negative portrayals of black women in the media and in song lyrics--outlets young people have easy access to with little adult supervision.

"I see it as a new type of civil rights movement," she said. "It's not protesting in the streets, but it's giving young girls the tools they need to think critically and be aware of what's going on around them."

Omolade also took her interest in human services abroad this summer when she traveled to Swaziland and South Africa for Emmanuel's travel course, "Religion, Gender & HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa." On the trip, Omolade and the group not only visited the country's historical sites, but shanty towns in Soweto and rural hospitals as well. They also performed a week of service at an elementary school in Swaziland and provided many residents with food and basic necessities.

"It was an eye-opening experience for me, to be able to leave a lasting impression," she said. "I became really close with the students I traveled with and learned to better appreciate all of the privileges I have."

This semester, Omolade is staying busy with classes and an internship as a case manager at the Crittenton Women's Union--the same shelter that she and her mother stayed at when they first moved to Boston.

"I can really relate to the women in the shelter," she said. "I feel like my life is coming full circle."

As the current Vice President of the BSU, Omolade spends time planning events, such as the new "What's the Word?" program and the club's first Kwanzaa celebration. Outside of Emmanuel, the Dorchester, Mass., resident participates in Rock the Vote and the Grand Circle Foundation's CollegeWorks Youth Advisory Council.

Soon, she will also be a voting member of Emmanuel's Curriculum Committee, where she hopes to promote a required cultural competency component for students.

For more information on fellowship opportunities at Emmanuel, please visit the Scholarships + Fellowships page or contact Professor Laurie Johnston.