Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Alaya Hunter. Alaya received a 2022 Champ award for stepping out of her comfort zone and tapping into her quiet leadership skills to positively impact her school, her peers, and younger siblings. [Throughout May, you can watch the Champs awards here to learn more. Alaya’s award presentation begins at the 35:35-minute mark.]
A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Alaya has been accepted to nine colleges. As of this interview, she is leaning toward Ferris and using her Kalamazoo Promise to pursue a doctorate in psychology and/or perhaps a Master’s in business/finance. She’s keeping the door wide open when it comes to her future career. She can see herself as a nurse or a teacher. But maybe something else entirely.
Alright, Alaya: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Name three adjectives that describe you.
Charismatic, dependable, and open-minded. [CIS Site Coordinator Jenn Miner, in learning these three adjectives Alaya used to describe herself, agreed. She also added these three: headstrong, goal-driven, and determined.]
How did you first get connected with CIS?
It was in my sophomore year. I was in Upward Bound when CIS started helping me. One day, my cousin, who was also in Upward Bound, told me, “[CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Miner helped me and always got me through the snags. She got me some tutoring and also got me into this class. You should go talk to her.” Okay, I thought. I’ll go try it out. That’s how we got connected. So ever since then, I’ve gone down to the CIS office to talk to her.
… And then when the pandemic hit, she still stayed in touch and sent me links to women’s groups so I could meet online to talk with other women talking about women stuff, talking about everything and anything. She popped by my house to bring me books and I thought, She really cares enough to do that for me?
She and Mr. G. [Brenden Groggel, then CIS Success Coach and now Associate Director of Site Services] were like my pandemic family. They did more than just bring me stuff—which, of course, I thought was the best thing ever. My mom cried a lot at Christmas because they had put my name in an “adopt a family” thing. So our family received cleaning supplies, toys for my younger brothers, stuff for my mom, for our house, all in this big basket and she was just in tears. It’s like, these people really care. CIS wasn’t just thinking just about me because I’m a student, they were thinking of my entire family.
When you returned to in-person learning this past fall, did you find CIS supporting you in any new ways?
Well, both Mr. G. and Ms. Miner worked on college recommendation letters for me, and Ms. Miner helped me complete college applications and apply for financial aid. My mom never went to college but she was still trying to help me with bits and pieces and Ms. Miner’s like, Okay, we can sit down with your mom and we’ll all learn together. And that’s what we did … she really helped a lot! She encouraged me to fill out as many college applications as possible. If it wasn’t for Ms. Miner, I would have filled out a max of two.
And now you have the good problem of figuring out which of the nine colleges you’ve been accepted to is the right fit for you!
In reflecting on the CIS resources you’ve taken advantage of, how have they strengthened you to be the student and young woman you are meant to be?
Without CIS, I would just have been a school person. I’d have done only the homework, gotten the grades, and that’s it. Ms. Miner helped me get more involved in my school, with the prom committee and fundraisers. And with the women’s group she encouraged me to do, I have become the leader. I wouldn’t have done any of this if it wasn’t for her saying, “Yeah, you should do this” and influencing me to be better and do more inside my school.
It sounds like she really saw your leadership potential.
Yes, and she tells me that every time. “You are a great leader!” And I’m like, yeah, I could be, but I don’t want to be too forward and someone takes it the wrong way. But she has pushed me. She’s like, “Here’s the women’s group. You got this.” And I’m like thinking, Okay, I’ve got to take charge, and then I realized I am a leader! She gave me the confidence to be a leader.
You do radiate a quiet leadership. Leaders don’t have to be loud and in your face.
And that’s what I thought I’d have to do at first, but then I realized, Ms. Miner’s in the background and she’s doing a whole bunch of stuff inside the school that no one knows about. That’s the kind of leader I want to be. To do more without being known. I don’t want the credit for it. I just want to actually do the work.
How do you see yourself as empowering your peers?
As a leader, I don’t want to be out there telling you what to do. I want to show you.
My mom always tell me actions speak louder than words. I never understood what she meant by that until high school years. I’ve seen kids not taking heed of what teacher says, know this, know that. But if they see their peers, their friends doing good, then they think, Apparently, she knows what she’s doing, so let me do that too. More of a show, not tell.
Thinking over your years in Kalamazoo Public Schools, who has been one of your favorite teachers?
That would be Ms. [Dionna] Roberts and Mr. Allison. I had them both as teachers when I was in fourth grade at Northeastern. Those two were the first African American teachers I had, and being an African American woman, of course, and being taught by African American teachers made me think, “I could do that too!”They were great teachers and took the time to educate everyone, not just the African American students. It was an empowering moment because someone like me was in charge and I got to witness it.
And at Milwood Magnet School, it was Mr. [Aaron] Perry. That man will encourage you to put your name on your paper! If you were the kind of student who never remembered to put your name on your paper, then he would give you a lesson behind why you should put your name on the paper. Your name, he’d tell you, symbolizes who you are, it represents your family, it represents your history, and so on, so that from that moment on, you will make sure your name is on that paper neat as day, just so he will see it. I love that man! He helped broaden my thinking. For instance, you usually think, Two plus two is four. But you rarely think, Why is two plus two four? It’s just been told to you. You don’t got beyond and wonder, Who made two plus two is four? Who made numbers? Mr. Perry will have you asking some of the simplest questions. And it is so fun! I was so lucky to have him for seventh and eighth grade social studies. I still have all the books and the notes I wrote from his class.
In high school, I’d say Mr. [Jason] Plunkett the gym teacher. I hated gym. When I found out I had to take gym freshman year, I was like, I don’t want to do gym! But he pushed me to do more than any other gym class I ever had. I hated running, but he made it simple. You run and walk. And in the weight room it was like, okay, you don’t have to lift as much, but you do have to lift. He encouraged me. “I know you can do more than that!” he’d say. This man just made me enjoy the gym. He makes me smile!
What’s your favorite word or phrase right now?
Black queen. I love that phrase! My mom tells me that every morning and every night. Every chance she gets. “And that’s what a Black queen should do.” And I catch myself saying, “Okay, Black queen!”
Actually, we all—my mom, grandma, and I—we have tattoos that say “strong queen” with all of our birth years on them.
It gives me confidence every day to know that my mom, even though she’s older than me and a queen herself, thinks of me as her queen.
Your mom sounds wonderful.
She is. She’s my motivator. My friend. I love her and my grandma so much. They’re like my best friends.
What’s a question you’ve been asking a lot lately?
Why me? That’s probably the biggest question I ask. I see a lot of kids my age going through pregnancies or deaths or jail. Why did God make me be as successful as I am now?
For the last few years I’ve been wondering what am I going to do? Am I going to be able to do what I want to do? What I’ve said I wanted to do? I have had a lot of self-doubt. It all has seemed so impossible. This year, though, has been the greatest year of my life. Everything is coming together.
I have a feeling you are only beginning to tap your potential, that there is even more than you realize.
I feel it! Like, just this week alone I’ve been having a flourish of confidence for some reason.
Anything else we should know about you?
I broke two generational curses: I’m the first to go to college in my family. And I’m also the first to reach 18 and not be pregnant … I did something my mother told me I’d be able to do, and that’s do more than what the generations before me did.
It’s pretty cool how those generations of women who came before you—your mom and grandma—have supported you to achieve those firsts.
My grandma, she’s like my mother, for real. Sometimes my grandma will randomly look at me and say, “I love you, I’m proud of you.” My biggest influences are my mom and my grandma. My mom raised me and my brothers as a single woman. And my grandma raised her as a single woman. We all have that connection.
Thank you, Alaya, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.