Nominated by JF STEM Institute
“Environmental Activism – Aliyah, a Denver native, is a junior at Whitman College with a focus on Environmental Policy. Aliyah’s dedication and commitment to ensuring equity and inclusion in the arena of clean air, water, and food have been an immeasurable pursuit, and often she is the one person of color at the environmental table. To date, Aliyah has planted over 100 trees in the Denver Platte area, organized key components of a Youth Water Summit (2nd year), organized a 2020 fundraiser for a Native American Reservation, and recently successfully challenged the Whitman Admin and Faculty to update the college’s policies regarding equity and inclusion. Aliyah has maintained a GPA of 3.7 and has been selected to pursue environmental work in South Africa in the Spring of 2021.”
My Black Colorado Interview
What do you think others would say they like about you the most or what they value about you?
I would say that I’m independent, reliable, and open-minded. I think it is really important to hold your ground and be able to do things on your own. I’ve acquired both of those skills to connect with other people and hold my own whenever it comes to projects that I’ve participated in. I’ve shown reliability and the work I do is always quality. As for open-mindedness, I think, especially in this current 2020 era, certain concepts need to be unlearned regarding different social issues or anything else that requires having the ability to reflect on your behaviors. I think those are all qualities that I’ve excelled in.
What do you think are some of the core values that lead you to do what you do?
Growing up in Denver, I have celebrated Kwanzaa all my life today. Today is the third day–Happy Ujima! We are focusing on collective work and responsibility, which I would say is a core value. However, yesterday the importance of self-determination is critical to me, and the first-day principle of unity. So I’d say all seven of those principles have shaped and groomed me into what I hold value. Based on all of the Kwanzaa traditions and coming from a very community-oriented family.
When you’re not in class, what things do you enjoy being involved in, and why?
Even as a student and full-time employee, I do many extracurriculars on the side that include music and the Performing Arts, but I also spend a lot of time doing social justice work. That means leading different clubs on campus, especially inclusivity and equity types of programming, and creating more of those types. I most recently slayed a virtual program for black girls here in Denver about a week ago! So I say I spend my time staying busy. I also enjoy doing environmental work like planting trees, cleaning up roads, and more.
What is the best advice someone has given you recently?
Oh, I have a perfect answer for this! Your lack of planning does not create an emergency for me.” That’s what I’ve been thinking about right now. I think it’s easy to shove people into stuff when they’re good at that. I feel like that happens to me all the time; when people ask me to do different things, I’d say yes to doing those things. Planning is another thing that’s important to me. I like having an organized situation, so last minute stuff doesn’t run with me that well. Keeping in mind that those that lack planning, which is on someone else’s part, doesn’t have anything to do with me, and I don’t have to fix that.
What is one thing that you want to get better at?
I want to get better at inviting different voices to metaphorical tables that I’ve been invited to. Like the recommendation letter said, I’m usually the only one that’s pretty typical for black people in Colorado or wherever I happen to be. (Only one as in being the only black person?) I don’t want to be in those spaces anymore where I’m putting energy and work into things as if I’m the only person of color or woman there. My goal is to practice collective work, like bringing support and other people who can also benefit and add value to the situation.
What is one piece of advice that you think adults need to hear to help them connect with the younger generation better?
I feel like the older generation has many weird expectations of younger people, and they expect us to fix every mess they’ve made. I feel like that’s whack! It needs to be a collective effort. You can’t just mess things up and then pass the torch expecting other people to fix it. Everybody needs to be fixing these issues that we’re seeing. That’s annoying coming from older generations. I would also say to just being more empathetic about mental health issues and how we speak and connect with people is what I would remind the older generation about.
What awards or accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
I wrote a paper called Results May Vary. I go to Whitman College in Washington state, and I found out that the Black Student Union created a list of demands for Whitman College in 1970 that were super reasonable. Those demands have yet to be accomplished. Some of those requests were to increase the black population, have a black therapist, and many more, but neither of those things Whitman still hasn’t done yet. So I wrote a document giving the history of that and those demands and the BSU of 1970. The experience of black people in 1970 at Whitman college and then the second part of that were the new demands by POC students at Whitman, and that document was cool to me because I think that was a great example of collective work. I had all POC clubs on campus contribute in some way to that document, and it went well. I’m proud of how that went. Secondly, I won the Colorado Black Women for Political Action Award in 2019 for my involvement in the community. Finally, I would also say that being a resident adviser at Whitman is an accomplishment of mine yet.
What impact have you made in the community that you’re most proud of?
I think they’re similar to communities that I consider in that question. So the first one is going to be my college community. I think the paper Results May Vary has been passed on to inclusion and equity forces where I’ve had several meetings. I think that was beneficial for the community, and it was a uniting force that I don’t think I’ve seen much more allyship than when I put that document out, and it got a lot of reads and everything. So I was proud of that. Secondly, I would say the Denver community, which I think there are more examples of changes I’ve made and environmentally where I planted over a hundred trees, and I continue to do so today. And when it comes to the JF Stem Institute, I’ve worked hard with that organization to help black girls in school, especially with stem-related passions. With my time working with all the girls, I’ve seen a lot of confidence and growth.
What do you think you want to do for a career, and why?
Ultimately once I graduate, I want to either get a master’s in environmental science or public policy. The overarching goals that I want to do are ecological justice work and pursue a career in resource management, specifically, water management wherever because it is needed everywhere. I want to be someone who writes and updates new and equitable resource management policies. Living through a pandemic has shown me to have ideas of what I want to do in the future but know that it’s going to shift somehow.
What role do you think your family played in where you’re at today?
I would say good I’d say pretty big one. I mean, I think you said that you’ve talked to my dad before, so I like growing up all that work that he’s been doing (expand more on what exactly her father does). They have grown up with that. My mom does the same thing on her side, so it’s very I don’t know. I feel like that was just a very present value that I’ve taken away, and also, all of my siblings have taken away because I think that we didn’t have a choice, and now that we do, it’s like that’s what I’ve chosen to do. I feel like that says something because I could have said no. I am carrying on like the legacy of your parents to impact the community.