Evanston Community Joins African Entrepreneurs In Educating Y.O.U. Youth

What brought Y.O.U. youth, the Evanston community and African entrepreneurs together was business.

What united them all, however, were shared experiences involving self-doubt, perseverance and an unstoppable drive to follow their passions.

More than 75 individuals gathered at Northwestern University’s Norris University Center on July 17 to build cross-cultural connections and exchange ideas about what it takes to succeed in business. Participants included Evanston business leaders, youth from Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.), and Washington Fellows from President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). YALI connects African entrepreneurs with resource and skill development opportunities through a six-week academic program offered at different U.S. colleges and universities.

The night began with keynote speaker Mary Dillon, CEO of ULTA Beauty, giving listeners a glimpse into her career path and what she believes made her stand out and rise in the business sector.

Dillon spoke of her journey as a first-generation college graduate and as a woman that rose to the highest levels of executive leadership. Dillon described taking her parenting responsibilities as seriously as her business duties, making time to sit down with her children’s school calendar and mark important events to attend, such as plays and sporting events.

Dillon also emphasized the importance of overcoming self-doubt and taking advantage of the strong adult role models and mentors that Y.O.U. provides. Dillon finished by imparting words to encourage youth success.

“The greatest advice I’ve received is to stand out,” Dillon says. “Be the person that asks questions and take on more than what is asked of you. It’s a small thing, but it really differentiates you in the world.”

Following Dillon’s speech, participants broke off into smaller groups to engage in private conversations about each individual’s business ideas and the qualities needed to rise as a leader. While Evanston business leaders and YALI Washington Fellows shared experiences they faced in starting their companies and organizations, Y.O.U. youth sought out advice for improving the business plans they’ve been developing over the summer.

Conversations quickly evolved as participants shared personal details of obstacles and doubts that stood in the way of their success. YALI Washington Fellow Amina Oshiokpekhai spoke about perseverance.

“If you know what you want to do, and you have a gut feeling telling you to follow this passion, go for it,” she says. “Go for it and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

The strong bonds that were created in these conversations were apparent in the ways that Y.O.U. youth and entrepreneurs stayed long past the end of the event, continuing their stories and sharing contact information.

“All the stories and ideas we shared were so authentic,” says Y.O.U. participant Michael Henry. “Using everything I learned for my Y.O.U., I’m ready to tackle the problems.”

“You can’t be stopped by walls. You have to run right through them,” he says.

Make It Better Philanthropy Award Winner Y.O.U. Evanston also partnered with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago in July 2014 to educate children on emergency preparedness skills through The Pillowcase Project. Instructors mentor youth to prepare for emergencies, establishing a fire evacuation plan and creating an emergency kit with a personalized pillowcase to carry necessities when fleeing home during a disaster. The Pillowcase Project aims to increase youth awareness on hazards and the importance of preparedness while building coping and reactionary skills.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago is looking for volunteers to help facilitate future Pillowcase Project programming. For more information on volunteer opportunities or to offer a host site for future programming, visit their website or call the office at 312-729-6100.

Find more information on programming and events from Y.O.U., or donate, here.