The operative word that describes FRJ Board member Erika Hardaway is reliable. FRJ has relied on Erika’s support, passion, and expertise since the organization’s inception, and we are honored to shine the spotlight on her!
Erika’s story personifies FRJ. When asked to tell her story and how she came to be in her field, she eloquently stated, “I grew up in a low-income, yet loving and supportive family. My parents struggled financially, and they made sure that education was a central focus for me, as they were certain that it would create opportunities for me that they could not. I went to great public schools and the summer between my junior and senior year of high-school, I served as a volunteer with a program called Amigos de las Americas. I went to Uruguay for five weeks and led a community improvement project, as well as educational initiatives. That sparked a desire to travel and, more importantly, change the world by increasing educational opportunities for all. I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature from Hunter College and a Master of Arts in International Education from New York University. After leading several youth development projects in Latin America, I decided to invest into our education system in New York City.”
Erika continued taking us along her journey and said, “It is crucial to invest in our youth so that they have the opportunity to go out and be the change they want to see in the world. I have devoted my professional career to achieving great educational outcomes in my hometown while still working with organizations to promote educational initiatives abroad. I am grateful to be able to pursue my passion in many ways.
On a softer side, Erika shared some fun facts about herself with us! Her favorite thing to do is to read! Erika said, “Reading has done so much for me, allowed me to escape mentally when I needed to, helped me learn more about my history and myself, opened up my mind to new people and places, and keeps me endlessly entertained.” She even shared some of her favorite books, like “Men we Reaped”, “The Poisonwood Bible”, and one of my favorites, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Erika’s favorite food is baked macaroni and cheese, her favorite place in the world is her hometown of New York City, and her favorite people in the world are her parents because they have been such an integral part of shaping her into the woman that she is. In the most admirable tone in regards to her parents, Erika stated that no one will ever share that “favorite spot.”
In connecting Erika’s story to her volunteer work as a Board member with FRJ, she told us, “FRJ focuses on empowering disenfranchised youth, and its mission could not be closer to my heart. I have been fortunate enough to encounter people in my life who have invested in me, and I have always wanted to do the same for others. Education is a powerful force in my life, and FRJ allows me to harness my passion and help students around the world embark on educational journeys that will change their lives and the world at large. Erika elaborated, and explained that she is interested in supporting African youth and the region through FRJ because throughout history, Africa and its people have been stripped of their time, talent, and treasure (mental and financial). She continued on this note and said, “Other people and countries have grown exponentially because of what they obtained from the continent and its people. FRJ provides space, time, and opportunity for African youth to explore their potential and empowers them to invest in their friends, family, and the economy! Erika concluded with the poignant statement, “A lack of resources has left millions of brilliant minds untapped and fortunately, FRJ is going to change that.”
One of Erika’s many hats as a Board Member for FRJ is helping to write its pilot program curriculum - which we found out, is her highlight in volunteering as a Board member for the organization! She excitingly told us, “I am thrilled to write the activities that will spark program participants’ creativity and lead them to create exciting and sustainable businesses.”
When Erika was asked about the message she would like to spread to the world about FRJ, she told us, “I want the world to understand that by investing in FRJ, they are taking a huge step toward stopping the cycle of conditional loans and grants, which only increase poverty and dependency. Being a part of FRJ in any capacity means that you believe in the power of all youth, regardless of the hand that life has dealt them, to create opportunities for themselves and for generations to come.” It touched us to hear her last powerful statement that, “FRJ is not a charity, it is an empowerment cultivator.”
How will FRJ’s reliable Board Member, and passionate youth advocate continue to invest in them and the education system in the next five years? But, of course, on a school leadership team as a Dean of School Culture or Assistant Principal where she will focus on character development and culture. Erika told us that outside of being on a school leadership team, she would like to be a consultant for organizations that lead educational initiatives abroad, specifically as they pertain to at-risk youth. Erika, we are positive that these aspirations will come true, and we THANK YOU for investing your time for the youth that FRJ will impact for years to come.
Chanell Hasty - FRJ Founder and Director