"So the next time you see a teenager and think they’re too young to make up their minds, especially when trying to influence politics, remember we all want and deserve to be listened to, just like we’ve listened to adults all these years. The only difference is now we’re fighting to be heard back." ~Camile Dumit
Raising children with or without religion. Confronting scientific evidence while reconciling it with our own faith. Reflecting on the parameters of an afterlife. Pondering a world devoid of religion entirely.
The world’s greatest theologians, scientists, and philosophers have found themselves at a loss for a clear answer to these very points – yet on Thursday, February 8, 2018, the fellows and mentors of Under A Tree, along with their extended community, attempted to do just that at UAT’s 3rd Annual Religion Roundtable.
They engaged in civil discourse on the nature of religion, how people interacted with religion, and how they interacted with each other in the context of religion. They convened 180 students, parents, siblings, and community members at Somerset Academy High School in South Florida to tackle this – to build empathy, engage in intellectual and impassioned dialogue, and gain insight into the beliefs of their neighbors and community.
A look at the photos below reveal the engagement of all participants and the open environment created by the robust dialogue. Civil conversation creates compassion.
The goal has always been to foster in not only fellows, but for all in attendance, a sense of awareness, accountability, and the agency to carry the discussion out of that room and into all aspects of their lives. Events like this remind us exactly why we want to empower young people to be leaders of the now and not just leaders of the future.
As we carry forward the legacy of leadership and activism, we are reminded from events like these that ceaseless dialogue will remain fundamental regardless of where we go.
Shada Thykandy is a senior, UAT '17 alumna, and Mentor of the House of Mazari for UAT's 17-18 cohort. She was born in South India and has since lived in Singapore, Minnesota, New York, and South Florida. Her household includes her two supportive parents and younger sister. Shada regards school as her highest priority but also enjoys writing, reading, and listening to music. She is an active member at her local mosque, and loves learning about different cultures and engaging in intellectual conversation regarding the controversial issues our American society faces.
For a while, I've been suffering silently.
From the discovery of my tumor, to questioning my identity, and now to my grandmother dying, this unit [Editor's Note: we are currently in Stage V of the Fellowship, focusing on Religion, Faith, Spirituality, and Doubt) has specifically been hitting really close to home for me.
I remember after the first meeting of the religion unit I cried to myself softly. I wanted to talk about my struggles but every time I tried to open up, I froze. I never really expressed it, but I've been questioning my faith privately. It has been a while since I prayed. I still believe in God, that's one thing I know for sure. But for me personally I've always questioned why bad things always happen to good people. It's a thought that has always been racking my brain.
My questioning began two years ago after I was diagnosed with Fibroadenoma. I was angry with God for a while, and I started to get into more fights with my parents. Sophomore year was a scary time for me.
I haven't prayed since then.
At one point I felt like God wasn't listening – so I stopped caring. It was hard going through that stage in my life and not having anyone to run to at the time. I felt like I was going to hell for a while because I was questioning my faith. I haven't prayed in over two years, but today I went to church and asked God or whoever up there who was listening to lay their hands on my grandma and heal her. The doctors have already told us that she's dying, but I can't just picture it. I want her to see me graduate this June, and it saddens me to know that she won't even make it before March hits. I just wanted to say to tell your loved ones you love them, before it's too late.
Why don’t we see past grades, relationships, extracurriculars and realize we are all humans that feel sad sometimes?
I’m angry. I’m angry that we all have felt like we weren’t enough. I’m angry that we don’t feel like we can be anything but happy. That our emotions aren’t valid. We’ve all felt like that. And no one told us it was okay to be sad.
Why is that?
"At the end of the day, I guess I will always understand that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is chronic, and it will be a very long time until I find a way to get over it. I will continue to be the best me I can be from day to day, and try my hardest to be as positive as possible throughout the hardest times. But something about throwing the words “My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” into a fiery pit of other hardships really did something for me. I felt brave, and powerful, and I knew that I would overcome this one day."
"Under A Tree has given me the opportunity to become more open, honest, and vulnerable than ever before. Our resiliency is something supernatural. Our strength and determination have gotten us through some of the worst things imaginable. Together we can all help carry each other’s weight through offering support and guidance"
"Tragedy brings us together in a way success or good fortune never can. Tears were shed, confessions were unabashedly shared, and our group emerged coherent in an altogether different way. We were all truly screwed up – flawed and cracked in every way imaginable.
But it was okay – because broken glass reflects the light in a way unbroken glass never could."
Our ethical citizenship cup runneth over...
Meet and get to know our most recent additions to the under A Tree family-- 25 South Florida-based high school juniors and seniors who are committed to becoming more ethical, accountable, and unapologetic social justice activists and civic leaders.
Click on the photo for more info!
The mentors (Tabitha Cherubin, Jhanae Douglas, Nick Mijares, Zoe Lee, and Shada Thykandy) and our leadership team (Director of Fellowship Recruitment & Experience, Andres Castillo, and Director of Development & Special Events, Donna Patricia de Castro) recently met in South Florida to build trust, share perspectives and hopes, and define individual, team, and organizational goals for the coming year.
Despite being depleted from weeks of AP Exam preparation and testing and sandwiched just before the thrilling release of graduation/summer vacation, our Fellows still somehow managed to create, implement, and execute their personalized capstones on a social issue/civic problem of their choosing.
The mission? Quite simple: Promote awareness (what it is people should care about it), garner accountability (why it is that people should care and why it matters to them), and promote agency (how can they actually go about doing something about it themselves moving forward).
In the final stage of our fellowship, facing more obstacles and barriers, our Fellows more than rose to the occasion. Over a span of two weeks in late May, they successfully implemented 30 community activism capstones on topics ranging from ending sexual violence to fighting environmental racism to shining a light on teen depression and addiction. In the process, they raised awareness in their local communities as well as online, inspired other elementary, middle, and high school students to think more critically and care more about the world we share, and experienced firsthand the difficulties and frustrations of creating social change but also the gifts, joy, and purpose of trying, learning, and persisting in the struggle nonetheless!
Please check out some highlights of our Fellows' work and be sure to click on all the links and explore some of what they created in more detail. We couldn't be more inspired by the work they invested in this effort and the foundations they have built to support the ongoing construction of a better tomorrow.
We are proud to officially announce our student leadership team for our third annual Ethical Citizens Fellowship, beginning in September of 2017.
As recent graduates of the UAT Ethical Citizens program, they will be responsible for recruiting, selecting, mentoring, and guiding the newest cohort of fellows. Please join us is recognizing and celebrating Shada, Jhanae, Andres Donna, Nick, Tabi, and Zoe!
On Friday morning, June 9, 2017, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, I was lucky enough to emcee the high school graduation for 25 of our Under A Tree seniors who had taken part in Under A Tree during 2016 or 2017.
Of the six student speakers at the two-school ceremony (Somerset Academy High School and Somerset Arts Conservatory), five of them were UAT alumni (both school valedictorians, both school salutatorians, AND the senior class president). This opportunity ranked among the most meaningful moments of my 15-year career in education.
Although we are admittedly sad to see our founding fellows of Under A Tree move on to college (we will miss them terribly and wish them well!), we are awed by their personal and academic accomplishments. Multiple AP Scholars of Distinction, National Merit Finalists, and an unbelievable list of college acceptances and millions in scholarship offers...our fellows are quite simply...IMPRESSIVE!
Here's just a snapshot of their admissions accomplishments:
We are also excited to note that we have a student leadership team in place for the 2017-18 school year and are ready to implement our THIRD annual Ethical Citizens Fellowship.
With all that said, check out a few images from that special morning below:
And a few bonus pics from our final extemporaneous hoorah picnic:
June 11, 2017 | Pembroke Pines, FL
On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Under A Tree honored 27 Ethical Citizenship Fellows and six Ethical Leadership Mentors for their successful completion of our 2016-17 Fellowship. Joined by parents, family members, community stakeholders, donors, and past Under A Tree alumni, we highlighted major accomplishments, celebrated student achievements, and awarded over $6500 in college scholarships.
We are grateful to Diana Rivera, Diana Escobar, Anaeli Mirjares, and Damaris Vila or their tireless efforts to secure and prepare such a beautiful space and provide tasty refreshments. We would also like to thank the Principal Stephanie Saban, the faculty and staff, and the PTA of Coral Cove Elementary School for so generously donating their facility for the celebration.
Check out our photoblog below to get a sense of the magic, emotion, and impact of this unforgettable evening in South Florida: