November 28, 2018

From immigrant to Ivy League: How a mentorship program helped a young woman find her confidence

SPEAK Mentorship helps immigrant girls understand their dual cultures and gain the self-confidence they need to become leaders in their communities.

Cristal Davidson attends her sister's graduation from Essex County College. As an immigrant family, finding a supportive community was extremely helpful for the Davidsons.

When I was 10, my family and I decided to seize an opportunity of a lifetime and move to the United States from Guyana. We knew that the moment we left our homeland and stepped foot on American soil, our lives and our lifestyle would change for the better. But it wasn’t that easy.

I moved from a comfortable environment to a place I knew very little about. I became reserved and for the most part kept to myself. I did not know how to interact with people who could not relate to me. Instead, I chose to sit and observe. As I grew older, I became more confident, but I still needed help connecting with people. By becoming an ambassador in the SPEAK Mentorship program, I was able to enhance not only my social skills, but my leadership skills as well. SPEAK helped make me more responsible and gave me access to mentors who provided critical support that helped me build my confidence. Through this program, which matches young women who are new to the country with mentors, I felt strongly that I was on the right path to success.

The relationship I had with my first mentor felt more like a friendship. Having someone to talk to about my future helped me become more organized. My second mentor encouraged me to be more proactive in school and to strive for the highest goals. I was able to apply these skills at school in order to become more competitive for selective universities. My last mentor taught me about crucial conversations—it’s a skill I can apply in school, in the workplace, and even at home. My mentors helped me understand my options and helped me realize how I want to pursue a career in book editing and publishing. Because of their guidance, I have a clearer understanding of what pathways after high school are right for me.

My work as an ambassador and peer leader are also helping me gain the skills I need to be ready for college, and they give me the satisfaction of knowing I am helping to support my community.

The transition from high school to college is something that concerned me, having witnessed what my sister experienced. Coming to America and getting accepted into school is a lot more complicated when you’re 17. My sister had already graduated from high school when we moved to the U.S. Her exam scores were too high to return to high school but too low to enter college, leaving her with limited options. Not having the right people to guide her toward the right choices, and our family being new to the college process, made it difficult for my sister to follow her career in nursing.

SPEAK Mentorship helped me prepare for the high school to college transition, giving me the chance to set my sights as high as the Ivy League. Visiting these schools changed my perspective—I expected to be intimidated by the people but I was proven wrong. Interacting with others at the universities made me realize that I too can attend an Ivy League school. Knowing my mentors and other individuals in the SPEAK community, such as those I meet at different colleges and workplaces, will be there to support me along the way makes the process far less daunting.

As a part of the SPEAK community, I was able to attend the 2018 Alumni of Color Conference at Harvard Graduate School of Education. I attended different panels and workshops, which opened my eyes to many societal issues, and I listened to beautiful, creative poems. On the second day, I witnessed my fellow ambassadors present a panel about the inequities immigrants often face. Watching them share their struggles made me feel motivated to work toward equity in education and in the job force. Through this experience, I gained friends who can relate to my experience and understand the unique struggles immigrants face. This gave me sense of belonging. For once, I wasn’t an outsider.

Through SPEAK Mentorship, I’ve accomplished my goals of becoming more confident and gaining leadership and teamwork skills. I am truly grateful for this opportunity, for the community of supportive people who helped me feel confident as a Guyanese American young woman.

Learn more SPEAK Mentorship on their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Cristal Davidson

Cristal Davidson is a sophomore at American History High School in Newark, New Jersey. She came from Guyana with her family four years ago and they now reside in Newark, New Jersey. Her experience as a first generation girl has inspired her to make something of herself and make a change in society. Cristal hopes her love for literature and writing can guide to her goals. Cristal was SPEAK Mentorship's 2018 Ambassador of the Year,