“I want to be an epidemiologist, or a chemist.”
Nickeirah Straughter says this with a certainty and conviction that goes well beyond her 16 years. She says this because the grandparents who frame her young life have either died or are struggling with cancer.
“I’ve always loved science,” said the sophomore at the John D. O’Bryant High School, “and science is the only way I can try to maybe prevent people from going through what I’ve watched my grandmothers, on both my father and mother’s side, struggling with.”
On a frigid morning in the middle of February vacation week, Nickeirah could have been home in Codman Square, tweeting or watching the tube. Instead, she was at Faneuil Hall, helping to mobilize 500 teens to press local businesses and State House politicians for more summer jobs.
“This is my fiscal cliff,” said Neil Sullivan, executive director of Boston Private Industry Council, who watched the hall fill with kids ready to make their voices heard.
Sullivan said those voices, who’ve descended on the State House for the past three February vacations, do indeed have an effect on the kabuki dance that is the budget process.
Yesterday, Tom Menino walked down the center aisle in Faneuil Hall, exactly as he did two weeks ago at the State of the City. The kids gave him the same kind of rousing welcome.
The mayor told them he’s already earmarked $4 million in the city’s budget for summer jobs, but he wanted them to leverage the politicians on Beacon Hill, who always seem to hold out until July.
Before they marched on the State House, Menino urged the young throng to buttonhole each one of their state reps and extract a pledge of two jobs per politician.
“All it took was someone to take a chance on me,” Nickeirah said of her employers at Boston’s Teen Empowerment, where she works in a variety of roles from organizing to babysitting. “Now, I’m doing better than I ever thought I could.”
In September, Nickeirah lost her friend and commanding officer in her school ROTC unit, Jorge Fuentes, to a bullet while he was out walking his dog. Fuentes had been scheduled to join the Marines.
“It was mistaken identity,” Nickeirah said. “I just wish people had something to do other than using guns. If they had the opportunity to be in a job that would empower them, to see that they don’t have to turn to the streets, or turn to drugs and violence. That’s what a job does. It gives you a purpose and direction in life. Everyone needs that.”