Getting To Know … Sevell Graham, a YouthBuild Schenectady alum named national scholar

Sevell Graham, right, and a file photo of a YouthBuild project

Sevell Graham, right, and a file photo of a YouthBuild project

Sevell Graham graduated from YouthBuild Schenectady in 2013, but his involvement did not end there. He was named a Helene D. Stoneman Scholar for 2021 and 2022. The scholarship is gifted to YouthBuild alumni who demonstrate an active role in their community. 

Graham dropped out of high school as a teenager and was speaking to Schenectady public services when he learned about YouthBuild. He applied just before Christmas and heard back after the holidays— he had been accepted to their “Mental toughness” program. This part of the program takes two weeks and is mandatory to fully enroll in YouthBuild. Students learn skills like time management and public speaking, alongside activities such as juggling or trust falls. 

YouthBuild primarily serves young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of school or out of work. Prior to his enrollment in the program, Graham had been convicted of marijuana possession. He says YouthBuild inspired him to not let his past hold him back.

“You’re defined by your present ” said Graham “I don’t look at anything that happened to me in the past as a hindrance of my today. I look at it as a lesson and something to help me keep moving forward.”

In addition to the GED classes and career training YouthBuild requires, students must take part in community service. For Graham, this looked like neighborhood cleanup, planning community events, and speaking to community members about YouthBuild’s mission. He wants people to know “YouthBuild is not just a GED and construction program, a lot of people are led to believe that.”

Graham is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Kennesaw State University. He recently transferred from Morehouse College, where he studied Civil Engineering, 

The Gazette recently spoke with Graham about his time since YouthBuild, and how the program continues to serve him.

Q: How did YouthBuild uniquely prepare you for college?

A: YouthBuild provided me with the necessary tools. Basically just telling myself nothing is unachievable, I can accomplish anything. To talk about the college part of it, [going] back to mental toughness, they go hand in hand. Obviously, college wasn’t something I did. [at that point] So YouthBuild helped me prepare for that and keep going. It gave me abilities as far as managing my time, being productive and being proactive. Just not ever giving up.

Q: What made you want to do something like YouthBuild?

A: Actually YouthBuild kinda found me. I didn’t know anything about it prior to hearing about it. Once I was fully enrolled, I couldn’t get enough. The program is raw. The program challenges every aspect of who you are and redefines every aspect of who you think you are. I don’t think you can get that anywhere else. 

Q: This is your second year receiving the scholarship. How else has YouthBuild continued to help you 10 years later?

A: So I have been an active member of YouthBuild since my graduation. I am a part of the panel for Schenectady YouthBuild. That consists of me speaking to new participants of the program, providing them with information to better suit their needs while they’re in the program, raising awareness, letting them know that nothing is unattainable. I have been doing that since I graduated. I also still serve and am still connected to the YouthBuild network. I honestly feel like I am actively in YouthBuild. Every day is a day of service for me.

Q: How does the community service landscape differ from Schenectady to Georgia?

A: In Schenectady, I already pretty much laid a foundation and knew what I could get involved with. Living in Georgia now, I kind of got to go find it myself. But they do actually have active community service events and programs I can get involved with. 

Q: I saw you’re a poet, do you want to talk about that?

A: I’ve been doing poetry for 10-15 years now. It’s something I’ve always had a passion for. None of my poetry is written. It’s all just spoken word. I want to be able to get my message out there. Let people know anything you’re going through you can overcome, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. You’re not in it alone. That’s just what I speak to when I do my poetry. Youthbuild in Schenectady actually uses one of my pieces for mental toughness. I’ve also used one of my pieces for the YouthBuild network COYL (Council of Young Leaders). 

Q: What are your post-grad plans?

A: I want to be a life coach. I want to be a counselor. I just want to continue to help people but on a different level. 

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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