Young people will give you all kinds of reasons as to why they need to call you back. They may be at the mall shopping or hanging with friends. They may be playing their favorite video game or headed to a party. I thought I heard it all until I called Jadayah Spencer. Her reason for having to call me back?
“I’m going through the United Nations security desk and you aren’t allowed to be on the phone while checking in. I’ll call you back.” That reason speaks directly to the nature of Ms. Jadayah Spencer. The 22-year-old from Bed-Stuy is a woman on the move, literally. This NYU graduate is the Executive Director of the International Youth Leadership Institute. She is also the co-Chair of the Youth Representative Steering Committee at the UN Dept. of Public Information. She’s already been on 5 continents, and her life’s work is sure to bring even more stamps to her passport. She speaks to her mission with superior confidence and candor. “The most important thing to know about me, I suppose, is that I am out to broaden the horizons of young people, leveraging travel and international and cultural exchange. I guess that’s the most important thing. I want every Black and Brown child to be able to experience the beauty of the many cultures that exist in our Diaspora.”
Her passion for global connection started as a toddler. She attended Little Sun People Day Care Center, an institution that has cared for our community’s toddlers for almost 40 years. Here, as a child, Jadayah began to learn about the world. She was introduced to languages like Swahili and Spanish and taught a global view and perspective. This perspective was reinforced and strengthened in her home, where her parents made sure that she built a healthy curiosity for the world around her. The Bedford-Stuyvesant community is a worldly community, and an educator in its own way. From her bedroom window, Jadayah can recall hearing African drums, the rhythm of Samba, the steel pan of Caribbean music and the beat of hip-hop. She recalls the love which defined her community, and she also remembers the dangers that existed. When she was 6, a stray bullet tore through her bedroom window, lodging itself about a foot above her bed. Still, the dangers never caused her or her family to wilt. Jadayah’s father was, in part, responsible for cleaning the block up and uprooting drug dealers and loitering from in front of her childhood building. The strength of her foundation would help Jadayah stretch her wings and fly. As a senior in high school, she was introduced to the International Youth Leadership Institute, an organization which focuses on cultivating critical thinkers and leaders through the education of history, culture and geography. Her dreams of global connection became a reality as a volunteer with IYLI. “Being a kid from Bed-Stuy, I always wanted to see the world but was afraid that it was way too expensive. IYLI provided a scholarship that enabled me to go. We first went to Tanzania, and that was the gateway I needed.” Her experiences abroad shaped her ideals and fueled her passions. “I just decided to never leave IYLI.” And she hasn’t. From volunteer to group leader, to board member and now as Executive Director, Jadayah has utilized the many resources available to create and foster global connections. And now she wants the same for every Black and Brown child. “I want to enable every Black and Brown child in the United States to be able to travel to a country in the African Diaspora. Imagine if the conversation in the hood went from, what sneakers are you rocking to what country did you go to last summer? Imagine if we had that kind of dynamic in our communities, where we are proud to embrace each other across continents, understanding that we are all a part of one story. Everyone is embracing Wakanda now, but Africa as a continent really is there, and you can really visit it.” Her advice to her peers and even her elders is, “There is no age limit to the kind of impact that you can make. We don’t have to wait until we are older to start making changes in our community. We can start making an impact in our community right now. Start thinking about how the things we do today will have an impact on others tomorrow. And travel as far as you can and as much as you can. Find ways to see the world. Minimum wage doesn’t have to equal minimum possibility.” From Little Sun People to the United Nations, Jadayah Spencer is on a mission to bring the world to our youth. And if her confidence is any indicator, she’s going to succeed at it.