In the early evening of June 23, DREAM Charter High School’s 2022 12th grade class officially moved the tassels on their graduation caps and were welcomed into the DREAM alumni community as Legends. Just the second class to ever graduate from DCHS, this particular group of students spent the bulk of their high school careers battling a pandemic, advocating for their communities, and further defining what it means to be a DREAM graduate.
Read more about just some of these outstanding young people, their paths to high school graduation, and their impact on DREAM.
Future College: Brandeis University
Interests: Film, Cinematography, Art History, Environment
Born in New York City to Jamaican parents and raised in the Bronx, Alannah Atkinson lost their mother several years ago, but remembers how both of their parents raised them to be open-minded, allowing Alannah and their brother to explore who they are without judgment, and find the interests they wanted to pursue.
This guidance motivated Alannah to help found Four Footsteps—a social justice group made up of DCHS students—in the early days of the pandemic. As part of the new club, Alannah marched in support of black trans rights and continues to spearhead fundraisers within DCHS to provide financial support for other social justice and LGBTQ+ causes.
In addition to this advocacy, Alannah chose to focus their AP Research project on how society treats, portrays, and engages with black queer artists, specifically compared to their white cisgender counterparts. For this year-long project, which culminated in a presentation to her classmates and teacher in June, Alannah interviewed local black queer artists about their personal experiences, and conducted a wide range of content analyses.
“I feel like I belong in that space,” Alannah says. “My peers make sure DCHS is an accepting space, that helps us build the drive to help others.”
DREAM Charter High School has also ignited a love of the arts within Alannah. Self-described as a shy ninth grader when they first arrived, Alannah realized in their freshman performing arts class the connections that art has to the world around them. This realization led to a love of photography, which Alannah hopes to pursue and tie to their activism in the future.
“It teaches you to critically think, to analyze,” Alannah says. “People forget that simple things in life have bigger meanings. Now I can look at a building and see a picture in my head. There is beauty in everything, and that puts a smile on my face.”
Future College: Haverford College
Interests: Medicine, Biology, Pediatrics
Though Fatoumata Bamba was born and raised in New York City, she didn’t start speaking English until Kindergarten. The daughter of West African immigrants, she spoke French at home during her early childhood years. “It gave me more opportunity,” she says. “Right now we’re learning Spanish, and I already know French, so I have an advantage.” She adds with a laugh, “When French people get lost in the city, I can help them.”
Fatoumata says her experience as a first-generation American has given her a unique perspective on youth development. While undertaking DREAM’s AP Research course, for example, she focused her year-long project on mental health within her peer-group—which is largely made up of first-generation Americans—and how cultural divides, communication insecurities, and more can contribute to a feeling of isolation when it comes to discussing mental health issues.
She’s also devoted to working with children—a passion developed from three years assisting DREAM’s REAL Kids program. Even during those fun-filled summers, Fatoumata focused on finding ways to make her students feel included and supported.
“There was a kid who was the only African in his class, and when he found out I was also African, we bonded a little bit,” she recalls. “He’s in fifth grade now, but his mom still calls me so I can chat with him.”
Organized and driven from a young age, Fatoumata has already decided how she will utilize these experiences and passions after college—by pursuing a career in pediatric medicine. She sees this path as the best way to pair her love of supporting others, working with children, and achieving a high level of academic success.
“Since I’m a first-gen college student, the people around me always ask what I want to do,” Fatoumata says, explaining that it’s made her consider the future earlier than most of her peers. “I’ve always known what I want as my end goal. I know I’ll end up where I need to be.”
Future College: Colgate University
Interests: Mental Health Advocacy, Social Justice
As a child who was afraid of heights, Amanda Escalona once took on the highest roller coaster she could find in an effort to face the fear and conquer it. Since then, she’s nurtured a love of challenging herself and trying new things.
That includes being selected to participate in The Opportunity Network, an intensive, six-year multi-dimensional fellows program for underrepresented New York City students. One of just 160 students chosen for the program, Amanda started working with the organization in 11th grade, kicking off her participation with a two-week Summer Institute and the first of five internships. Since then, she has worked with the organization in the areas of personal and professional networking and career exposure, while also becoming an AMP Global Scholar.
But what Amanda finds the most beneficial about working with OppNet is the organization’s wide support system and access to mental health counseling, resources she had trouble finding as a child.
“I didn’t really speak up about issues I was going through because I didn’t think my family would be accepting,” Amanda explains. “But when I did find the ability to say something, I realized they were always there for me, and I realized how much people cared about me.”
This experience drives Amanda’s interest in becoming a child psychiatrist and creating the support and resources she didn’t know she had. Amanda would even like to start her own organization one day, but for now, she is focused on the impact these things can have on her future college campus.
“I would like to implement workshops for students to learn about social issues, and would love to create workshops about domestic violence, which often starts in college,” she explains. “I want to create safe ways for people to express how they feel.”
Future College: Connecticut College
Interests: Medicine, Biology
As the child of Trinidadian parents, Shane Mohammed says he never felt like he truly fit in growing up in his predominantly black and Hispanic Bronx neighborhood.
“It was pointed out that I was different, but I changed that into a positive,” Shane says, noting that he turned his regular visits to Trinidad into research missions, constantly learning from his family about what life was like there, and embedding himself in the island’s social activities, even becoming an avid fisherman. “I accepted my differences and now strive to showcase my ethnicity,” he adds. “I’m proud of it.”
This type of immersive learning comes naturally to Shane, who loves to be social and interact with the world around him. It’s even how he approached some of his biggest projects at DREAM Charter High School, including the year-long AP Research course. Shane’s topic focused on New York City’s expensive fashion culture, and how spending habits may increase poverty cycles in low-income communities.
“This topic means a lot to me,” Shane says. “Growing up in New York City, there’s a lot of social pressure on the clothes you wear, and I got into that habit. I like to incorporate my personal identity in class.”
Looking toward the future, Shane also hopes to incorporate his personal identity into his career. As an aspiring doctor, he’s targeting neurosurgery or anesthesiology as his chosen fields.
“I like that neurosurgery is hands-on, hard work,” he says. “But I also love that an anesthesiologist is there to prepare a person for their procedure, and relieve someone’s nerves beforehand.”
No matter which path he chooses, it’s clear Shane will approach his work the same way he approaches all he does—turning negatives into positives, learning from the world around him, and supporting others.
“In any situation I find myself in, I keep going with the most positive intent,” he says. “I would help anyone in the same situation.”