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Kemi Dauda: “Believe in yourself”

Believe in yourself: Sometimes you are going to be your own supporter because it is hard for others to see your vision at the beginning. When I told some people about starting the Bringing Hope Back Home organization and all that I wanted to accomplish through it, they laughed in my face. However, I believed […]

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Believe in yourself: Sometimes you are going to be your own supporter because it is hard for others to see your vision at the beginning. When I told some people about starting the Bringing Hope Back Home organization and all that I wanted to accomplish through it, they laughed in my face. However, I believed that my hopes and dreams were valid, so I preserved and advocated for my ideas. You must always be your own cheerleader!


As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kemi Dauda.

As a young, black student attending a majority white university, Kemi Dauda recalled times when she struggled to find her place during her higher education experience. But after having overcome adversity to get there — including creating an award-winning app, Steps to Success, through the NAF Lenovo Scholar Network that addressed the illiteracy rate in Detroit — Kemi never stopped believing in the power of hard work and ambition. Kemi launched her non-profit, Bringing Hope Back Home, last year, determined to give back to her community. She helps young people look at their futures differently by using technology to provide guidance and training for students who are preparing for their next steps in college and career.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?

I was born in Detroit, MI, and when I was just seven years old my parents moved our family to Kaduna, Nigeria to expose me to different perspectives, my culture, and to see the other side of the world. There, I studied 13–15 classes a term, as well as several languages. They put pressure on the students because they really wanted us to succeed.

We moved back to Detroit once I finished middle school and I began high school at age 12, which was a really intimidating experience. After that, I started my college journey at age 16. Since joining college, I’ve always felt that I had to constantly defend my place there and prove that I got accepted for my hard work and merit and not because of my skin color.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was in high school, I attended a summer camp called You Are the Gift by the organization, Helping Individuals Succeed Agency. The founder, Dr. Derschaun Brown, was also my college transition advisor in high school. She is someone who believed in me from the start even before I even knew the potential I had.

In high school, I did really have a complete grasp of who I was. I wanted to be my authentic self. That summer, I changed how I carried myself and how I saw myself. I changed how much I valued myself. I learned to think bigger than my circumstances. I walked into my senior year of high school with a different sense of confidence. Through You Are the Gift, I learned that I could simply be myself. After my time of transformation in the program, I realized that I could not keep this to myself. So today I, who was once a mentee, have now become a mentor.

You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?

I launched my non-profit, Bringing Hope Back Home during my freshman year of college, to help young people look at their futures differently. We are using technology to provide guidance and training for students who are preparing for college and their careers. I am determined to give back to my community and it makes me proud, even though I am just a small part of these students’ life. I see myself in them, and them in me. In this way, I’m helping Detroit students bridge the gap between their peers across the country.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

As a young, Black student attending a predominantly white university, I cannot help but recall times when I have struggled to find my place. At times, I have felt that high school had not fully prepared me for the college experience and the pressures of the transition. I noticed a disparity in the resources I received compared to those of my college peers.

But after having overcome adversity to get to college, I have never stopped believing in the power of hard work and ambition. I decided that I really want Detroit students to believe that higher education is attainable. I started by creating an award-winning app, Steps to Success, through the NAF Lenovo Scholar Network that addressed the illiteracy rate in Detroit and then created the Bringing Hope Back Home organization.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

This summer I decided to build a team, after almost three years of doing everything by myself. This was a huge step for me because I am protective of my organization since I built it from the ground up. Due to the ongoing pandemic, I knew that everything was going to be virtual. I was a bit nervous about what the team dynamic would look like since we did not know each other that well. I was also concerned about how we were going to impact high school students without being able to meet with them in person. So much uncertainty, but I took a risk.

Now I have a team of eight amazing young women who are in high school and college. Although we are in three different states and two different time zones, we have still been able to create positive social change and build a strong bond. It was scary transitioning from in-person workshops to virtual events, but we made it work. Technology has removed the barrier of distance and has allowed us to reach more people than we ever have.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Last year, I hosted college prep workshops for a week in my high school and on the last day, a student came up to me and thanked me for helping feel better about herself, the college process and even high school. She expressed that she was glad she chose to attend these workshops and that it was great to hear from someone who attended the same school who she could relate to so well.

Those comments made me emotional because the reason I started Bringing Hope Back Home was to provide the support that I was not completely given in high school, especially as it pertained to the college application process. That alone was a reminder for me to keep on pushing because there is so much that needs to be done in education systems. I am extremely proud of the students I have come across because they truly inspire me and keep me going. If I can help just one student feel more comfortable and confident about the college process, then that is a win in my book.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define making a difference as paying it forward. It is not enough to just lead by example, but instead it is about taking the actual step to cause change. For me, it was not enough to just tell other Detroit students that they can find success in higher education. I needed to give them the tools that they were not always able to receive and help them envision educational success.

Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Be Bold: It takes courage to begin anything. Beginnings are full of potential, but also risks. It can be scary to use your voice or platform. However, the great late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Go towards your dreams and passions, in fact chase them!

Believe in yourself: Sometimes you are going to be your own supporter because it is hard for others to see your vision at the beginning. When I told some people about starting the Bringing Hope Back Home organization and all that I wanted to accomplish through it, they laughed in my face. However, I believed that my hopes and dreams were valid, so I preserved and advocated for my ideas. You must always be your own cheerleader!

Do not forget your roots: My parents have always told me that no matter what happens and no matter how far I go in life, that I should always remember where I come from. Do not forget the people and communities who raised, built, and supported you. You can never change your roots. Your roots are the foundation of your life. When you remember them, it allows you to remain humble and reflect on where you started.

Remember why you started: This is very important especially when you feel like giving up. There will be overwhelming moments and times when you may doubt yourself, but you have to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. For some, it may look like saying daily affirmations in the mirror or putting Post-it notes with encouragements on the wall. For me, I have an actual canvas painting on my shelf that I look at multiple times a day which says, “When you feel like quitting, think about why you started.”

Stay grounded: This is very important, especially during uncertain times. Prioritize your mental health and wellness. Take breaks when needed, it is not a sign of failure. Lean on the positive influences you have and remind yourself about the people you are serving.

What are the values that drive your work?

I live by the motto, “go ahead and do it.” The odds have always been stacked against me, but I have always persevered to the next level and my driving force has always been to give hope to disenfranchised students that look just like me.

Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centered in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?

Reflection. Sometimes we get caught up in the chaos and demands of life and can lose ourselves. However, I can reel myself in and remind myself of who I am and my goals in life. I journal a lot and I keep a gratitude jar which I add to every single day. At the end of each year, I open it up and look back on what I have achieved and how I have grown. Also, my faith is very important to me. It keeps me grounded and gives me a sense of stillness and peace.

In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!

My vision for the world is to be better connected and empathetic. Growing up in Nigeria was truly eye-opening for me and an experience that has been unmatched since. I experienced their education system and it allowed me to see the educational disparities that exist not only in the US, but around the world. There is a strong “hustle” mentality in Nigeria, the desire to want and to be better. That mentality was instilled in me and I believe that the experience molded me into the change-maker I am today.

The vision of empathy is what led me to join other passionate women in telling our stories for change as part of the film series by Lenovo: New Realities — a global film project that uses its 360-degree Virtual Reality to show you the perspective of 10 young female change-makers around the world.

Now, I know displaying more empathy as a global effort is no easy feat, but I love to receive support from partners like Lenovo that are aligned with my vision of empathy and use innovative technology to tell those stories. It shows me that we are headed in the right direction.

We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?

If I had limitless resources, I would provide every student with the technology and tools they need to succeed — laptops, tablets, hotspots, wi-fi, books that are in good condition, and more. I would also create a resource center in different communities of need where students are able to feel supported personally and academically.

I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?

I would like to see more equity in the education system. I have witnessed what a lack of resources can do to a student’s ability to see their own potential and would hate for that to continue.

There needs to be multiple systems in place, both at a national and classroom level, to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success. This means providing additional support to help students overcome their individual barriers, be it financial, academic, or resources. Some students might need more personal approaches that will require designing educational experiences around a student’s individual needs. I know that technology will play a huge role in providing this level of personalization and that is why I created my app to address the illiteracy of students in Detroit.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

To all the young people out there and especially young women, I would say do not be afraid to use your voice and advocate for yourself. As young people, we are often told to stay in our place or to be quiet, but no. Go out there and make positive changes in your community. Lean on the positive influences you have in your life and never give yourself your first “no.”

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Malala Yousafzai. Her resilience and dedication to create a world where girls and women can receive a quality education that is safe is so inspiring. Her story and drive motivate me, and it would be so cool to have a conversation with her and even collaborate!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about my non-profit organization at www.bringinghopebackhome.org. You can also learn more about my work, and the stories of other women driving change, in the Lenovo: New Realities film series via www.Lenovo.com/newrealities.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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