I had the pleasure of meeting Jamal at the 2019 Alumni Summer Social a few months ago. Immediately, he struck me as smart, humble, giving, and inspiring. He shared stories about his 2010 trip to Japan and all of the wonderful things he has been up to since that time. When he started talking about his audacious goals to make the world a better place, I knew we had to do an alumni highlight on him.
A few weeks later, I sat down with Jamal to talk about a range of topics including his travel program experience. He said, “The trip to Japan sparked something within me a passion for traveling that has helped lead me to where I am today. It changed my perspective and the way I looked at my future and my place in the world. It planted seeds of change and empowerment that are still developing. I truly believe travel is an invaluable tool for learning.”
However, Jamal shared that he almost missed out on this experience. “I was not sure about the commitment and wanted to spend more time playing basketball. But staff pulled me aside and told me I’d be an awesome fit for the Japan program. I realized that not only did I have the rest of my life to play basketball, but the chance to go to Japan was once in a lifetime. Although I missed the application deadline, the staff allowed me to join the program late, which left me with the great responsibility of catching up to the other students in the program. I remember failing my first test but remained persistent and was eventually able to earn a spot on the trip.”
A little over 9 years after traveling to Japan, the list of Jamal’s accomplishments is long. He graduated from UMass Lowell, worked as a mechanical and aerospace systems engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, traveled to Rwanda, Atlanta and Detroit as a Humanity in Action Fellow and started a nonprofit called The NET Mentoring Group aimed at closing the STEM achievement gap. This month, Jamal began at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to get his Masters of Public Policy. He hopes to combine his analytical mind with new knowledge about systems of change and social impact work.
“My goal is to leverage public and private sector collaborations to increase access to economic mobility opportunities for many of the most marginalized communities.”
As if attending graduate school was not enough, Jamal is also in the final stages of producing his first documentary film, “Ubuntu Rising: 25 Years Since Apartheid”. Along with a group of friends, he created the Ase Research Film Project, which follows four black, millennial, scholar-activists as they explore inequality, race relations and progress in 25 years since the first democratically elected government of South Africa. He is currently working to raise funds for post-production costs and submission to film festivals. He believes that these stories not only need to be told, but that the global and economic lessons that lie within these narratives are critical in helping the world develop a global consciousness for equity and humanity.
“The more mixing of innovative models and ideas, the better our chances of tackling the challenging and vast issues around opportunity and economic disparity,” he said.
Looking back on his trips to Japan, Rwanda, Atlanta, Detroit and South Africa, Jamal said, “Those experiences have provided me the opportunity to expand my view of the world and understand the complexities of the challenges I seek to address.”
For such a young man, one has to wonder where Jamal gets his motivation. He said, “So many programs have poured so much into me and have been a part of my growth. I want to start pouring back the love and support that I received into the future generations to continue the great work that our world needs us to do.”
Well said Jamal. We cannot wait for what is next from you.
If you would like to learn more about Jamal’s documentary and how you can support his efforts to enter it into a film festival, please visit https://www.aseresearchfilm.org/.
*If you know a travel program alumni who you would like to see highlighted, please email Adam Chaprnka at firstname.lastname@example.org.