Khadijah Brydson (COL ’14) knows from experience that Jamaica is not just a vacation destination. Having lived in the town of Savanna-la-Mar until she was 5, she spent most of her summers there as she grew up and witnessed gang violence first hand. She decided that she would do something to help the kids in her hometown escape the danger that she lived under. She founded her own nonprofit organization, Emerging from Lo Debar, Inc. and won the prestigious Silver Knights Award in Social Science, a community service and academics based student reward program in Miami. With a few years of running a nonprofit under her belt, she’s now ready to involve Georgetown in her efforts.

What inspired you to start the organization?

I’m originally from Jamaica. I was raised there, and I’ve been going back every summer. With all the going back and forth, I saw different issues in the community. When I went back during the summer of 2006, an incident occurred as a result of a conflict going on with a local gang, and I thought I was going to die that night — it was so horrible. Then, I thought about the kids who lived in the community who couldn’t leave. I was fortunate enough to be able to leave and come back to America, but these students who lived in the community couldn’t avoid the violence. So I thought about a way in which I could help the students [and] provide them with skills necessary to pursue the careers they are interested in. I started talking to my mom and my family, and they told me to start a project.

What went into creating the project?

At first, the project involved donating school supplies and tutoring students just to educate them about the importance of not being violent and how they can emerge from the issues occurring in the community. After that, I wanted to solicit donations from other organizations like Target and Wal-Mart, but in order to get donations, you have to be a nonprofit. So I did my research, and I thought, “This doesn’t seem so difficult,” but I needed to figure out what I needed to do. My mentor at the time, who is still my mentor today, is an attorney in Miami, and she told me her firm would take the case for me. [Her firm] Centerfield in Miami took my case pro bono and helped me become a nonprofit. So, from there, I was able to accept donations, I was able to get more people involved, and I was able to expand.

How did it evolve?

After it became a nonprofit, I started a pen pal program in which I paired kids from different public schools in Miami with elementary school kids in Jamaica. I also started a mentorship program at my high school, Carroll City Senior High, where we mentored kids in middle school. I really wanted to start the pen pal program because the students in the area I’m helping live in a community that is very violent and poverty stricken. These students don’t know what America is like. They see images of America on TV and think, “Oh my gosh, Disney World.” They don’t really know how it is. I created the pen pal system so they can get a feel for what America is really like by talking to someone their own age. The kids will say, “Hey, do you watch ‘That’s So Raven?’” and things like that, and the kids really enjoy it. I created the mentorship program for the older kids, who were being recruited into the gangs around age 10 to 12, to try to reach out to them before it was too late.

What keeps it running?

That’s a good question, especially since I’m here in D.C. and the board is in Miami. Honestly, just having a board of people is incredibly helpful. I’m only 20, so of course I don’t have the expertise to know, “oh, this is what a nonprofit needs,” so it’s great to have people with background in that area. They guide me, like, “Hey, Khadijah, this deadline is coming up,” or “You have to fill out this form.” And even my mentor makes sure I submit all the necessary paperwork so I can maintain my business. I kept it going via email my first year at Georgetown, but it’s getting harder to maintain. During my senior year in high school, I went to Jamaica every month to see the kids: It’s only a 45-minute plane ride from Miami. I can’t do that here, that would be impossible. A lot goes into maintaining a program like that. Someone could say the kids are doing fine, but you never know. So now I want to start a Georgetown chapter to keep it going.

What are your plans for the organization in the future?

Next fall, I’m going to go through the new student organization process to start a chapter here at Georgetown. I’m going to go to Jamaica for Christmas, so I’ll be able to see the kids and get the whole thing going again. I’m excited to start the mentorship program here.

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