A speech by Ma’Sherrod Swinson delivered to a crowd of 180 guests at Enterprise for Youth’s annual dinner celebration, Heroes at Work. Ma’Sherrod was the first of three youth speakers to share their personal stories and how Enterprise’s programs impacted them along the way.
“From being a teen who was already lost, to being even more lost in the toughest time in the world, coming across an organization that had the tools to help me find purpose was a light at the end of my tunnel.”
Three years ago, in the year 2020, I was an 18 old-year-old African American male in high school at the height of the most uncertain time in the world. At first, I was confused and excited. I’m not the type of guy to watch the news, so I was ignorant of how severe COVID was. I was excited just to be able to play video games all day, not having to worry about getting to school on time, being able to eat in class, and I didn’t have to take a shower in the morning if I didn’t want to (I still did be the way). But then days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned into a year, and that is when reality truly hit. Trapped indoors with a rinse-and-repeat routine of waking up, doing school work with little to no human connection, and spending the rest of that day mindlessly scrolling on social media. I thought, is this it? Is this really how life will be from now on…
Like life wasn’t hard enough as is, COVID was placed right on top like a cherry on a sundae. I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, thinking about the pressures of family and friends. What if I didn’t live up to my Mom’s expectations? The expectation of getting that high school diploma, the expectation of getting into a good college, and the expectation of not being another statistic, and now I have to deal with COVID too. From being a teen who was already lost, to being even more lost in the toughest time in the world, coming across an organization that had the tools to help me find purpose was a light at the end of my tunnel. If I had never accepted or even looked at my Gmail that day about Enterprise for Youth, I would have never known how to put together a resume the right way, or had a clue of the importance of a cover letter. I would not really have cared about plant life and environmental justice, and I would not have taken this opportunity to talk to all of you because of the fear of messing up.
But I didn’t want those negative feelings to stop me from being something better so over the past three summers, I picked weeds and cleaned up parks here in San Francisco. On the surface that is already pretty great, because not a lot of people would take the time out of their day to clean up their community. But more than that, I began to wonder if I enjoy doing one thing I never thought I would enjoy doing, what else could I find myself unexpectedly liking?
“I am grateful to Enterprise for not just giving me something to do during the summers, but teaching me what it takes to make my dreams a reality.”
Because of Enterprise For Youth, and because I wanted a bright future for myself, I can take a leap of faith with confidence into any new endeavor and because of Enterprise for Youth, I now have a better understanding of organizations, know how to research companies I want to apply to, have newfound care for plant life and life in general from my Green Careers experience, and know that it’s okay to mess up… we are not perfect.
I joined Enterprise For Youth and began really asking myself what it is I want to do. As of right now, I am a sophomore at SFSU majoring in Theatre Arts. This summer I will be an Enterprise intern at the African American Shakespeare Company. I am on the road to becoming an actor and it’s going pretty well. I am grateful to Enterprise for not just giving me something to do during the summers, but teaching me what it takes to make my dreams a reality.
Ma’Sherrod began his journey at Enterprise for Youth in June 2020 as a high school junior. His first internship in SF parks as part of Climate Career Corps sparked a new found interest in gardening for Ma’Sherrod. This discovery opened up his eyes to new possibilities and opportunities. In the following two summers, Ma’Sherrod returned as a Program Assistant and then a Park Lead working with SF Rec & Parks. Ma’Sherrod participated in Enterprise’s year-long leadership program Youth Council during his senior year and interned at San Francisco SPCA in the fall of 2022.
Ma’Sherrod is completing his third year studying Theatre Arts at San Francisco State. He will be interning at the African American Shakespeare Company this summer.
Thank you to Katherine Kennedy for coaching our youth speakers, and to our youth speakers for sharing their inspiring stories.
By Francis Orkin, Writing Intern at Enterprise for Youth, 2022-2023