Manny is the embodiment of Freedom House’s goal to inspire students to graduate and give back. He has been involved with Freedom House for 6 years as a PUSH College student and is now a member the Freedom House staff. He attended Snowden International School at Copley and graduated from UMass Boston in 2015. He credits the organization with allowing him the space to grow and to persist in college despite the many challenges that he faced.
Manny was first introduced to Freedom House in 2010 during his senior year of high school when a coach made a presentation about the PUSH College program that piqued his interest. He had been a part of Upward Bound at Roxbury Community College and appreciated the support that the program offered, so he saw PUSH College as a similar type of support system that would provide him with the community he needed to get through college. From his initial interactions with the PUSH College coaches, he could sense that the team genuinely cared about the students.
After applying to the program, he attended a 6 week summer program where he learned about efficacy and formed bonds with the other students in the program. When reflecting on the bonds that he made with the students, Manny said that he “derived inspiration from the other students, students who were expected to fail but they made the transition from one year to the next.” That environment, where everyone was struggling together but able to thrive, encouraged Manny to persist.
The PUSH College coach that he remembers the most is Rob Plummer, someone that Manny immediately respected and admired as a mentor. When meeting his coach, Manny did not know at the time how essential Rob would be in ensuring that Manny made it to the finish line at UMass Boston. During his first year on campus, Manny was unsure about how to navigate the terrain and Rob introduced Manny to a woman, Lilliana Mickle, who serves as the Special Assistant to the Vice Provost. Manny remembers Rob introducing Lilliana by saying, “You know this lady and you’re all set.” This connection proved to be essential to Manny as he went on to establish himself at UMass Boston. Seeing the impact that Lilliana had on his college career made him value the knowledge of how to build relationships. Relationship building can prove to be beneficial in times of unexpected hardship.
One night, Manny was let go from his position as a supervisor for KFC, a position that provided financial stability for him. When he confided in his coach about the problems that this was causing him, the Freedom House staff acted quickly. One employee Kim Amyouny, helped to create a position that allowed Manny to come on board and work for Freedom House as a building manager. This allowed Manny to continue to build relationships with those within the organization and its affiliates while making an income to support himself.
The relationships that Manny built at Freedom House proved to be beneficial for his career development. After sharing his story and discussing topics on black and Latino men on a panel called, ‘Beyond the Bricks,’ opportunities continued to flood in for Manny. Former CEO of Freedom House, Gail Snowden, created a Program Associate position with the Summer Learning Project team where Manny would work with students from the Jeremiah Burke High School in a partnership with the Boston Private Industry Council and Boston After School and Beyond. Under the leadership of Charmaine Arthur, Manny developed many skills that he then applied to work he began to do on campus with other young men.
Through his experience working at the Burke, Manny picked up on how to conduct his own social emotional training for the students. He had some experience in this when he created his an organization to support young men called Ambitious Men Engaged in Necessary Dialogue (AMEND), at UMass Boston. The purpose of this organization is to teach young men about the power that they have, despite the messages they may receive from society. Manny, with the support of fellow students and mentors, facilitated discussions with men about manhood, masculinity and helped them to express their personal opinions about the pressing issues of the times. Through these conversations, young men would learn that there is strength in walking in vulnerability.
When he worked as a Program Assistant with the Admissions Guaranteed Program, a pre-collegiate program out of UMass Boston, Manny supported students at the Burke. He also brought AMEND to a younger group of students and saw the impact it made on the young men through a different lens. Manny engaged with young men who struggled academically but then went on to inspire them with his story to be resilient and continue with their education.
After discussing his accomplishments, he was asked about what being a part of Freedom House meant to him. He replied: “Freedom House is home; it’s love; I feel safe and challenged every day.”