00:05 When I came home from prison, a lot of doors weren't only shut, they were locked. It wasn't for everybody to believe in me. It was for me to believe in me.
00:13 Being able to step in a leadership stance is not always about what we say, it's about what we do.
00:46 Hello, it's exciting to be with you today. I am joined with Aje Hill, the founder and executive director of I Believe In Me. Can you tell us a little bit about how did you get started in this and tell us a little bit more about your organization? Me, myself.
01:00 At one point in my life, I visited a lot of dark places, choices of my own, and those choices landed me to a prison sentence. 20 years all suspended but 8. So at a young age, I had to learn life on the side that it was about survival and not about quality of life in that stay in that darkness.
01:22 I did one of the hardest things to do in America, and that's change. As we know, change doesn't come overnight. It takes time. But I made a pact to myself. I said, I can, I will, and I must. I didn't want any kid to go through the dark spaces in the pain that I was actually going through. I actually wanted to help them get into the light.
01:44 So when I was freed from the penitentiary, we started a nonprofit called I Believe In Me Inc, geared toward challenging, inspiring youth to create pathways for successful futures and that I can report to you today.
01:59 We have 54 young men and women enrolled in our program. Over COVID 19 we were able to partner with some amazing people and organizations in this community and feed 1.9 million people that could have been hunger insecure we were able to be the light in the midst of so much darkness. And for me, it's just an honor and a pleasure to serve our community.
02:22 I think the name of your organization is so interesting because I think as human beings, we have this natural tendency to want affirmation from people around us. And so often that isn't maybe something that is available to us or to many. But this I Believe in Me, that is kind of the self-actualization. Can you talk a little bit about why you called it that and why you feel like that kind of self love is such an important part of this journey?
02:47 I've made mistakes. I've done things that I'm not proud of, but I don't regret anything that I've done because it makes me who I am today. So we're in that space in that place. The words that came to me is, “do you believe in yourself?” It was a new way of living for me.
03:04 Often times we hear the words "under privileged." We hear the word “at risk." There's one stipulation to our program you simply need to believe in yourself. You're not here because your dad left you. You're not here because your mom doesn't love you. You're not here because you have behavior issues or mental issues.You here because someone took the chance to believe in you.
03:26 Someone thinks that you're a leader. Someone knows that you're going to impact tomorrow, today. So just providing that confidence, just providing that hope and providing that love and guidance that they need is definitely also important right now.
03:41 Can you talk a little bit about the programming that you do? I mean, just the affirmations that you're giving right now in and of themselves would turn lives around and help people really see their future. However, you have specific programs that you do too, everything from sports to different mentoring. Can you just talk a little bit about the program line up and why each of those are such an important part of the equation?
04:02 Absolutely. Right now, one of the biggest components of our program is our after school mentoring. So as these kids go back into school, they need supports, they need guidance because when they get out of school, mom's at work trying to catch back up on the bills. Sending these kids home to be alone, in my humble opinion, is not the answer.
04:23 Bringing them around people that care about them, bringing them around people that can elevate them is very important right now. So after school, we're picking up from 17 different Frederick County public schools at the current moment.
04:35 How do you scale what you're doing? How can the community participate in what you're doing? How can others help make this go bigger and broader?
04:45 Absolutely great question. You know, support is definitely key to our growth, our development, and I can say this community has supported us tremendously. As we continue to grow, I can say to you, we have 41 parents on a waiting list waiting to get their child enrolled into the program.
05:06 And the reason for that waiting list is we don't have the space. We don't have the room to put these children. So right now we're running our program out of a church in downtown Frederick. I'm meeting again with the city of Frederick looking to sign an MOU so we can get our own building. We will need to put a lot of work into this building, raising funds. We will be starting the capital campaign to make this a place where kids feel safe.
05:32 What's incredible is that it's a vision that you have from your pain, from your past, that you're able to just inspire others to make a difference. And really, when you think about the community piece of what you're doing, you're helping young men and women believe in themselves, see a path forward, figure out how to do that and be proud of who they are.
05:53 And so, you know, I'm a big fan and advocate of a positive affirmations because if we don't share that to ourselves and tell ourselves we're enough and we're good enough it's really hard for the outside world to see us more than what we see ourselves as. So my hat's off to you.
06:08 Everyone always thanks me. Well, people don't understand is it's those children keep me away from the spaces and places that made my life unmanageable. So constantly I thank them. I thank the families that we work with, I thank investors that I continue to pour into this organization because together we are so strong, we're bringing unity, we're bring inclusion and equity. So it's just an honor to be able to be in that space and place.