Meet brothers, Chikezie and Gozie Nwachukwu, and their good friend, Bilal Othman. These fine gentlemen are about to start their exciting journey to higher education and not just any higher education, we’re talking Ivy League.
As parents, we hold high expectations for our kids attending college — and a “good college” at that. We pay for tutors, enroll in test prep courses, extracurriculars that will make our kids “well rounded”, inspire them to volunteer, and the list goes on. Often times, it’s a matter of encouraging our kids to follow their passion and providing them with the resources to do so.
For Chikezie, Gozie, and Bilal their journey to the Ivy League includes an off-the-beaten-path venture into Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia program to shoot a video for a school project. According to Jeff Lassahn, a YOUmedia mentor at Harold Washington Library Center, “they’ve been coming 1-2 times a week ever since.”
“I handed my camera to Jeff [Lassahn] and he pressed two buttons and everything became way better,” Bilal reminisced of his first experience at YOUmedia. “Our film, which was on attitudes about race in society around the same time as the Eric Garner case, wasn’t coming together, but once we started participating in YOUmedia that really helped our project along. For example, our audio was so bad at first but in YOUmedia everything just went from 0 to 100.”
What all three of them have in common is they each give full credit to their successes to YOUmedia and to their beloved mentor, Jeff Lassahn. Jeff urged Bilal to create films during his summer visiting Pakistan and he’s advised Gozie and Chikezie on their (PRO)ject US project. (PRO)ject US is an initiative for young adults between the ages of 13 – 23 designed to build fashion design, music production, and new media journalism skills. Jeff has inspired them to keep coming back to YOUmedia to further develop their interest in film and video production.
Chikezie and Gozie immediately followed up by stating, almost in unison, “YOUmedia was the perfect place, and perfect time for us.”
The two brothers and good friend went to YOUmedia to make a film – now they are producing podcasts, and learning Spanish. Bilal even took up sewing. “You come in for one thing and you end up developing 10 new skills,” he said.
“We also got confidence,” says Chikezie. He shared that he’d reached out to the famous photographer and Instagram influencer, @itsforgotham. Not only did Chikezie land the interview, he ended up following him around Chicago and “just seeing what he does. I was surprised [@itsforgotham] responded, but YOUmedia gives us the confidence to reach out to people like successful photographers.”
Gozie will be attending Columbia University and Chikezie will be at Yale this fall. Neither of them have a firm idea of what majors they wish to pursue, but they both know they’ll keep active in the arts and media.
Bilal will be attending the University of Illinois at Chicago and plans on studying marketing while continuing to make films. Bilal’s films have earned awards from Scholastic Arts, American Visions, All American, and several more.
Chikezie and Gozie admitted that they will miss YOUmedia when they start their college careers, while Bilal is grateful he will still be able to utilize YOUmedia resources — and knowledgeable mentors — to improve his craft.They all echoed that the skills they learned — both creatively and personally — from Jeff and the YOUmedia team, will carry through the rest of their lives.
There’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing Gozie Nwachukwu, Chikezie Nwachukwu, and Bilal Othman on film credits in the very near future.
Before wrapping up our interview, Gozie shared a quote from The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which he said summarizes one’s experience within a creative and supportive environment like YOUmedia and the incredible mentors like Jeff and the rest of the staff working with teens day in and day out:
“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”
Wow. We couldn’t have said that any better!
We thank our generous sponsors the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their investments in YOUmedia since 2009 that are truly transforming the lives of teens who come into any of 12 YOUmedia spaces throughout Chicago Public Library. We also thank Allstate for funding YOUmedia in 2016.
To make a gift that funds children’s learning programs, like YOUmedia, visit us at cplfoundation.org/curiosity.