Opportunities to formally hear good news about young people are rare. However, Kendra Randall Jolivet and Yolanda F. Sonnier are helping to bridge the gap by highlighting stellar young ladies and young men through the “She Matters & He Matters Awards,” created in 2008 and 2010, to celebrate the accomplishments of young people. Each year, boys between the ages of seven to 17; girls ages nine to 18 and two adults who are helping the community and youth are recognized.
The creation of the awards is rooted in Jolivet and Sonnier’s shared vision to create a nonprofit called A Step Closer Foundation, Inc. (ASCF, Inc.). The attorneys who have been partners in Randall & Sonnier, LLC for 15 years representing children in abuse and neglect cases in the Baltimore area wanted to take children a step closer to their destiny.
On March 13, 2016, at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, 24 young people and two adults were honored at ASCF, Inc.’s ninth annual She Matters & He Matters Award Ceremony in the categories of academics, community service, athletics, entrepreneurial spirit and character and achievement.
The 2016, She Matters honorees include: Varia Alston; Imari Cooper; Kendel Abrams; Gabrielle Carter; Ariona Mayo; Terise Smith; Alexis Hiatt; Martesha Smith; Alejandra Stack; and Zandra Cunningham. NyGuel Jones; Talon Cooper; Tarance Cousar Jr.; Jeremiah Boyd; Justin Marrow; Jaaron Alston; Iyinde Palmer; Tymon Johnson; Brett Burch; and Aaron Johnson were this year’s He Matters honorees. Isaiah Jolivet; Nia Jolivet; Erin Dixon and Allen Dixon were surprise awardees recognized for character and achievement. Participating youth were nominated by parents, teachers, coaches and churches.
Sandi Mallory, WEAA’s Director of Public Service and Community Engagement and host of “Cool Vibes for Your Midday” and “The Neo Soul Café,” was honored as She Matters Shero of the Year. Elder Dwight Parker, assistant pastor of Set The Captives Free Outreach Center, and founder of a faith-based mentoring program for males called Operation Timothy, was honored as He Matters Hero of the Year.
The unique ceremony highlighted talented youth from Baltimore, the District of Columbia and other U.S. locations. Seventeen-year-old Jaaron, a Baltimorean who received the He Matters Bell-Turpin Community Service Award, was among them. He has been dedicated to community service since he was approximately nine years old. As a member of an organization called the New Horizons Men and Women Squires’ Club, Jaaron has participated in neighborhood street clean-ups, canned food drives and other activities.
“I worked around my church cleaning, helping elderly, feeding the homeless and also giving them clothing,” Jaaron said. “It feels really exciting to be honored for what I’ve been doing, although I’m in it for the rewards.”
Jaaron’s sister, Varia is a sixth grader student who received a She Matters Jean A. Sonnier Academic Accomplishment Award. Varia’s aspires to maintain perfect attendance and graduate with honors from high school.
Zandra Cunningham, who received a She Matters Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, traveled from Buffalo, N.Y to participate. The teenage entrepreneur and speaker started her eco-friendly small business, the Zandra brand, by making lip balms and whipped shea body butters when she was just nine.
Fifteen-year-old Aaron from Miami, Florida, was selected to receive an entrepreneurial spirit award. His company has produced commercials and music videos for businesses, organizations, schools and performers. The author, motivational speaker, award-winning filmmaker and talk show host is currently on his “You Are Never Too Young” book tour. Aaron said that he intends to inspire younger entrepreneurs or younger kids to own their own business. In 2015, the impressive honor roll student received the McDonald’s 365Black Community Choice Youth award.
Aaron explained that his entrepreneurial journey began at the age of nine when his parents brought home a laptop. He said that in less than 24 hours, he made a commercial by using software that was new to him. From then on he knew filmmaking was something that he needed to do. Aaron remains on a mission to achieve big goals. He offered advice for young people who have ideas but are unsure if they should pursue them.
“I always say everybody has their niche. Everybody has a certain talent or ability that you can use to pretty much blow it up as big as you can. You know, make it your brand,” Aaron said. “So I would say just keep on going, keep on motivating and keep on being inspiring!”