June 29, 2020 | Comments Off on Serving The Gaps As A Youth Advocate
Akeliah Stewart has dedicated her career to lifting the voices of children and young adults throughout the Carolinas.
For the past nine years, Akeliah, has been a member of the Alexander team through our affiliate The Relatives. The Relatives is a crisis and resource center for homeless and struggling youth throughout the greater Charlotte Mecklenburg area. They have even served homeless and runaway youth from places like New York, Chicago, and even California. From starting as a part-time Crisis Counselor only working on the weekends, she has moved to a shift Supervisor and now full-time Program Manager of the Youth Crisis Center. In her time with us, she has transformed the Crisis Center on East Boulevard into a safe haven for youth as well as a space of mentorship and growth.
At the heart of all she does, Akeliah is dedicated to being an advocate for youth and a strong voice for their needs.
“They have a voice and they are our future. Our laws and policies will fall to them and empowering youth is my thing.”
Ms. Stewart is a first-generation American, born to Jamaican parents in Queens New York, and has witnessed the disparities that minority populations face throughout the country. After her move from New York to Maryland, a highly diverse and disadvantaged area, she realized the importance of creating safe and empowering spaces for young people. She recounts seeing huge racial disparities in her community and friends being victims of police brutality at young ages.
“I’ve experienced a lot of different things in regards to culture, people, and foods in New York City. Maryland was very different!”
Her experiences and academic training as a mental health counselor has provided her the ability to connect with youth in an organic and natural way. Her demeanor resonates with others, bringing a sense of comfort to the children she serves. Being able to have a normal conversation with children and families is key to identifying the challenges and struggles they are facing leading to a child running away or the homelessness that they face. She notes part of her job is helping others put words and names to the strong emotions they are feeling.
The most challenging times over the years have been the moments where Akeliah’s own voice hasn’t been heard. She mentions that “it is hard to advocate for these kids when it feel like your own voice isn’t even being heard – almost as if their voice doesn’t matter.” Just like the kids, Akeliah notes that having a strong voice and an open ear is vital to be able to successfully advocate and grow within an organization.
The clientele at The Relatives Crisis Center is diverse in their needs, yet over the years Akeliah has become attuned to identifying ways in helping the communities in the best ways. Each of the kids comes from a different background and has a different set of needs, yet it is her job and the job of her staff to fill the needs of the kids.
“They just need that one person to believe in them. We will do whatever we can to be that person. The person that they can always come back to or give us a call when they are in need.”
Building a sense of community and purpose has been vital to the work that Akeliah has done at The Relatives. While there have been countless success stories of children and families being reunited and finding their way, there are always the less unfortunate ones ending on sometimes a somber note. For these kids and young adults many times it is the lack of community and support which leads them back to the negative influences that led them to The Relatives in the first place. She notes that for youth it is hard to sever ties with the only community you have, even if it isn’t a positive or healthy one. Without having a safe space to belong or having someone to advocate, many young adults find themselves circling the wrong community for security.
“Sometimes when I see my kids or hear of them being locked up or getting themselves into trouble – their future has been tainted because of their record and they have this stigma/perspective that they are bad people when I know they aren’t.”
Yet Akeliah strives to make the crisis center at The Relatives a safe and inclusive community for all. She believes it is her mission in life to be a mentor for our youth and her staff and wants to give them the support and encouragement that she was missing during her younger years. Akeliah has found her passion in building a community and a voice for the youth of Charlotte and will forever strive to help others do the same.
Akeliah Stewart is a native of Queens, New York, a first-generation American to immigrant parents from Jamaica, and spent her teenage years in Maryland. She completed her degree in Education from South Carolina State University and Master Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Walden University. In her spare time, she runs a youth career development non-profit, Center 360, is a foster parent with her partner, and is learning to appreciate reading alongside her interest in music and dance.
Written by Emily Gordon.