Sika Kodzi

My Essay

“Attention Oviedo High School students. One of your fellow classmates passed away in a car accident over spring break”, my principal says over the loudspeakers. It seems like a crude way of announcing a death - blaring humanity’s fate during first period. I think we had a moment of silence after that, in the distance he was still talking about counseling and I just sat there unmoving, shocked into a stupor. On March 26 during first period I learned someone had died. By second period I heard that he was a senior, like me. At lunch, I learned his name was Greg. I learned that he was a nice, quiet, kid who stuck out with some friends one night and got into the passenger seat right next to a friend who had a couple of drinks that night. I learned that - intoxicated and uncoordinated - this friend crashed his car and ended the life of a innocent. That was monday, days have passed, and life hasn’t stopped. Yet, for Greg, for his family, all the people he interacted with, a piece of themselves is gone. While I didn’t know Greg personally, the part of me who naively euphemized the dangers of driving under the influence is also gone. From now on, I will be an advocate. I cannot continue to be an innocent bystander. Because people like Greg need friends that will stop them before tragedy strikes.

About Me

I truly believe every immigrant has a story, some moment or a collection of moments that illustrate their character and the character of those around them. And my family are immigrants - in every sense. From as long as I can remember we were moving: Ghana to Indiana, to Pennsylvania, to Nairobi, Kenya, to Ohio, to Florida. Every place was unique and I learned a lot about the human condition simply being present. At the same time, as my own family was going through hardships trying to survive feeding two kids with no jobs; as my parents sacrificed and went hungry so that my brother and I could eat; as trial after trial plagued, relatives died, grandparents were hospitalized, student loans and medical expenses piled up; as life happened constantly, rapidly, and without mercy, we moved. And I observed what it means to be human. That is why I fundamentally believe that my purpose is to help others. Over the summer, I became immersed in the plight of the nearby low income minority community of Sanford, through the economics of tobacco. As an intern for Tobacco Free Florida I researched the point of sale marketing practices that aggressively target minorities, children, and the poor. I used that knowledge to fuel activism and community outreach. It soon became clear just how deeply these practices had invaded the community. I would talk to elementary school students - young children who were yet to learn about algebra or chemistry - but could easily think of examples of every possible type of tobacco product. I had countless conversations like this. I would say “Why is smoking bad”?, and in some form or another the responses would be “My mom smokes, and now she has cancer”, or “the smoke from my neighbor’s apartment makes me cough”, or “sometimes my parents spend so much on cigarettes we can’t afford to eat”. My supervisor and I would drive back from the schools or community centers stopping every so often to record the large tobacco advertisements and the minute warning signs, the harrowing testimonials echoing long after. I remember talking to a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club after a presentation about the housing policies in the area. She told me how there weren’t any penalties for smoking in her apartment building, and how bad she feels for the kids that live there. She concluded with “Well, that just the way it is”. At that time I agreed. However, I’ve grown to see my pessimism as an excuse, a cop-out. Without hope of tomorrow, I grew disheartened by the realities of the present. But I have learned that that simply isn’t an option. The biggest thing I’ve learned about leadership is the relentless work it entails. When given the opportunity to make a difference, those changes won’t magically appear overnight. I had to do something, say something, help someone. For the children living in unsafe environments without a voice, I had to use mine. The work was not romantic or prestigious, but necessary. That being said every now and again there are these pockets of light that renew my passion. At the beginning of the summer I visited an elementary school for the typical talk and a second grader walked up to me as I was packing up to leave. She was tiny, with pigtails she was nervously fiddling with. In the quietest voice imaginable she said,“ my dad smokes sometimes, does that mean he’s going to die?” I just stood there for a second. What was I supposed to say to that? She was maybe seven. Eventually, I asked her if she knew where the health department was. She said no. I gave her a pamphlet with the address and some tips to quitting, and she gave me a hug. A couple months later, I saw her and her dad at a free recovery clinic. I can’t begin to explain how gratifying that moment was. More than anything, that little girl taught me that incremental progress is still progress. And that good leaders embrace the uncomfortable and the monumental, because they cannot afford not to. I must be optimistic because I can’t afford not to hope and dream, and work and research ways to make my world a better place.