Meet Raheema Muhammad, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Rochester’s 2019 Youth of the Year! A Club member since she was 10 years old, Raheema is now a senior at Allendale Columbia School and creating waves of inspiration wherever she goes. “Raheema was a natural choice for our 2019 Youth of the Year because she’s such a hard worker academically,” said Sean Smith, Education Coordinator at the Club and Raheema’s competition mentor.

Earlier this month, Raheema traveled to Buffalo to participate in the Western New York Youth of the Year competition – and won third place, earning her a $1,000 scholarship!

“I wasn’t expecting to place. I knew there were a lot of kids there with outstanding stories, so it felt really good that the judges saw that I have the potential to go on and do great things in the community. It was a really good feeling when I got third place,” said Raheema.

Through her experience as Youth of the Year, Raheema has been finding her voice and gaining confidence. She went in knowing that she had a lot to say about certain topics, but wasn’t always sure how everything would translate out loud.

“It’s been good to get all those things down on paper and see how much I can express, and how much people want to hear about my story. One of the judges said, ‘You inspire me.’ That was really awesome to hear.”

So, what are those topics she’s passionate about? Growing up Muslim, Raheema knows a lot women who have felt inhibited due to the restrictions of their Islamic religion. This has made her an advocate for women’s rights, and a believer that people should feel safe and know that they’re not defined as one thing. “For example,” she says, “I’m black and I’m also a girl.”

Next year, Raheema is taking that passion to University of Buffalo, where she plans to major in Public Health with a focus on Nutrition and Public Policy. Her dream job would be to work for UNICEF or the World Health Organization, but will be on the right path as long as she is working to expand women’s rights, and healthcare and education for everyone. She hopes to travel and dreams of working someday in places like South Africa, Greece, and Morocco.

One of 8 kids, Raheema started coming to Boys & Girls Clubs of Rochester when she was in 5th grade. After her brother had gotten involved in a special program here, their mom realized that the Club was a safe and perfect place for all her children to go after school!

At first, Raheema had been homeschooled; then she attended a local charter school that was demanding enough that she didn’t have a lot of time to socialize or make new friends. “Coming to the Club was a good place for me to get involved and meet new people, get my homework done, and get involved with reading.”

In fact, she says the Accelerated Reading room and staff were her favorite parts about the Club. “I used to go in and talk to them about anything, even if I didn’t have to read that day,” she remembered.

It was when Raheema was gearing up to go to high school that the Club really came through for her. She knew she wanted to make a change from the charter school she had been attending, but was having trouble securing financial aid from any of the schools she had her eye on.

So, she talked to Dwayne Mahoney, Executive Director at the Club. He was able to secure her a spot at Allendale Columbia High School, and the financial aid package that worked for her family.

“Ever since I’ve gone to Allendale, I feel like I’ve grown, and that’s mainly because the Club helped me get in there.”

Sean Smith is also grateful that the Club gave Raheema the opportunity to seek out a more rigorous education. “She inspires other members because she is a walking example of the benefits of the Club, showcasing what the Club has allowed her to accomplish.”

And Raheema has certainly accomplished a lot! She is an Urban League Black Scholar, a Rustic Pathways Impact Ambassador, and the recipient of the Community Service Award from Allendale.

We wish Raheema all the best at college and beyond!