Jane Goodall Institute Fellow breaking boundaries at the Village Learning Place

Posted on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 by Melissa Howison

The Village Learning Place (VLP) has a proud history of innovation and social activism. Born of a community demanding equal access to free library resources, the VLP grew into the pioneering non-profit community library it is today. Billal Mabizari, a veteran VLP Classroom Assistant, is carrying on this legacy as 1 of 14 young adults across the country chosen for the inaugural class of Fund II Fellows, an inclusion-focused professional development Fellowship offered through Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots. The VLP is privileged to have Billal completing his 10-month Fellowship in our Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids (LINK) youth education program, and that he has shared his story.

“Both my parents are immigrants from Algeria. Hoping for a better life, they moved to Alief, a small district in Houston, Texas. Growing up in an economically disadvantaged area where minorities were the vast majority, I was exposed to various cultures and was no stranger to hardships. When I turned 18, I made the decision to travel halfway across the US to study Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University. Little did I know that during my freshman year I would find a small nonprofit that I would grow to love: the Village Learning Place.

Looking back there’s not one single memory that made me fall in love with the VLP. It was a combination of the staff and students in the LINK program that created lasting memories. It was watching as the children grew and changed. Whether it was Jamal who, in second grade, was always calm, or reading to Hermione who eventually ended up reading to me, the overall experience resonated in my heart and led me to the Roots & Shoots Fund II Fellowship.  

The fellowship is aimed at promoting leadership and growth in the youth of today. When I first became aware of it (two days before the deadline), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give back to the VLP. I stayed up all night drafting a project and ran down St. Paul Street the next day to get approval from Liesje, the VLP Executive Director. Two weeks later, I received a notice from the Jane Goodall Institute that I had been awarded the Fellowship.

In September, I met with the other Fellows in D.C., and we headed to New York to meet Jane Goodall for the National Day of Peace. What struck me was that I was one of the oldest people there. There were many young Fellows, some who were still in high school, and working hard to make a difference in the world around them. Before that, I felt social activism was something mainly adults did, but here were youth who were trying to impact the world around them for the better.

The name of my Fellowship project is Breaking Boundaries: Cultural Integration through Arts. It is a 10-month project that includes all LINK students. Over the course of the 10 months, the students and I will develop and carry out a curriculum aimed at breaking down the boundaries between cultures through various art media. I hope to ingrain the seeds of diversity and acceptance into the students at a time when I feel the country needs it most. I also hope to show them that they themselves are not limited in their impact. By the end, I hope each student will have built up confidence that they take with them and build upon to forge their own paths, encourage others, and spread the seeds. As for me, I don’t know my future yet, but I hope to continue working with youth in some capacity. Possibly through medicine, maybe education reform, or directly as a teacher.  

As for the Village Learning Place, I hope they continue what they are doing, and continue on with the LINK program. Sometimes the students may not realize the impact and importance of the program, but I believe that the LINK program, and the Village Learning Place in general, is an amazing program with a longer and more far-reaching impact than the students realize. While I’m struggling to make a difference every day, the VLP already has made, and will continue to make, a difference every day.”

All of us at the Village Learning Place see the difference Billal makes everyday in LINK, and are inspired by his dedication to our community.