Students of color learn about future career options in Topeka

Isabella Cushinberry, 11, heard the message loud and clear that members of Topeka’s Forge wanted her to hear on Friday.

 

“You can achieve your dreams,” she said. “You don’t have to take other people’s opinions if they say that you can’t do something.”

The sixth-grade Jardine Middle School student, who wants to be a veterinarian and an artist when she’s older, was one of 46 middle school students who participate in Boys & Girls Club of Topeka programs who attended Forge’s inaugural “Living the Dream” symposium.

Lonnie Walker Jr. is chairman of Forge’s diversity and inclusion pillar. He said the symposium at NETReach in East Topeka was aimed at getting young people from minority groups interested in careers, showcased by Forge members who are Topeka professionals of color representing business, health care, government and science, to name a few.

“Often times, underrepresented communities sometimes feel like they are forgotten about,” he said. “Sometimes society tries to dictate who and what they can become. A big portion of this is to show these young children of color, and young ladies, that they can actually see what they can become through these diverse professionals who are right here in Topeka.”

Walker said another goal, in line with the city’s Momentum 2022, is to get the students to realize they can reach their careers goals without leaving the capital city.

“We want to show that we can turn that around and show them that they can be successful here, you don’t have to move away to these bigger cities and they can see it right in front of their eyes.”

Momentum 2022 lays out a complex, ambitious plan to address issues that affect quality of life and Topeka’s ability to thrive.

Mo Awad, a Westar executive, native of Lebanon and a first-generation college graduate, said he wants children of color to know they can overcome obstacles that may get in their way.

“If you don’t have that parent who graduated from college, you’re going to be the first one, as long as you set your mind to it,” he said. “If I was able to move to this country and learn to speak English, graduate from college and become a successful engineer.”

Kathleen Wellman, who retired as a chief warrant officer for the Army, said she tells students that getting a foundation with the military can benefit them when they transition into civilian life.

“Everything we got trained for in the military carries over to a civilian job,” she said. “A lot of civilian employers like the military because we’re dependable, we have that respect. Minority kids have every chance that any other kid has with the opportunities in the military.”

Walker said he hopes Forge can host the event with the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka at least once a year in the future.

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or on Twitter @AngelaDeines.

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