Jalen: Growing as a leader

Scholar Ambassador

“I feel like I have a chance now to help Scholars reach their goal of going to college.”

He was born ready.

Anyone would get that impression in any communication with Jalen, a 16-year-old junior. Text him? He responds almost instantly. Schedule a phone conversation with him? He answers at the first chime of his phone and addresses the caller by name, calmly and confidently.

It’s that kind of poise that sets him apart from his peers. It’s no surprise then, that Pathways to College selected Jalen to serve as a Scholar Ambassador. In this new program, Jalen and seven other Scholars are paid to assist Pathways to College teachers and staff with Scholar outreach, recruitment, welcoming new Scholars to the program and other leadership activities.

“I feel like I have a chance now to help Scholars reach their goal of going to college,” Jalen says. “I already reach out to all spectrums of kids at my school. I like to tell them there are always different paths to success. I’m in Pathways to grow as a person and to help marginalized people of color gain upward mobility.”

Jalen already is forming a plan for his own ascension. He wants to attend Seton Hall University, take courses in history, African American history, and English. After graduation, Jalen wants to go to law school and then become a civil attorney. He says his mother and grandparents who are raising him have instilled in him the belief that making social change is possible.

“Through law, changes can be made in urban development and changes in social thinking,” Jalen says. “In a lot of urban settings, kids aren’t exposed to the ‘other side’ of life. They only see what’s around them. Kids in Newark need to be exposed to what’s outside it.”

Jalen says he’s fortunate enough to have traveled to Jamaica with family and has seen firsthand kids living a different lifestyle to their urban American counterparts.

“Kids in school there were wearing ‘olden days’ school uniforms,” Jalen says. “I saw from that, there was a heavy emphasis on education.”

In addition to his academics and his Pathways Scholar Ambassador responsibilities, Jalen indulges his curiosity and his fascination with social structure by avidly reading. He’s recently finished science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s classic alternate history novel, “The Man in the High Castle,” which envisions a terrifying world in which the Axis powers won World War II and occupy the United States, and he’s currently reading Paul Butler’s poignant nonfiction title, “Chokehold: Policing Black Men — A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How to Disrupt the System.” Discussing those books and the recent confirmation hearings of the history-making, newest Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, it’s clear why Jalen is so invested in those works.

“One day, I want to be sitting in one of the chairs she sits in,” Jalen says. “I feel like I can make a difference on that national level.”

Anyone meeting Jalen for the first time quickly learns it’s not wise to doubt him, or his ability. His leadership, discipline, and focus are rock solid.

“Pathways teachers told me I was on my phone too much and that I was too bright not to focus,” Jalen says.

“Pathways provides an environment where I can speak on issues and it helps me grow and mature — it’s made me more accountable and helped me refine my leadership style. I used to lead with a soft hand, but now I’m a little more stern. Teens having a lack of guidance is my main social concern.”