The first thing you get when you meet Kudirat Alimi is what she calls the “Hyde introduction.” More than just a greeting, the introduction is a mini bio: name, age, address, birthplace, interests, activities. It comes naturally to Alimi now, but it wasn’t always that way. When she arrived at Hyde Leadership Charter School as a sixth grader, she could barely make eye contact with strangers.
But after countless Hyde introductions, her confidence grew and she was able to do more than make eye contact — she became one of the school’s star students and a community activist.
“I was sheltered for the majority of my life. But I would say that Hyde is pretty much the reason why I stepped out of my comfort zone,” said Alimi. Through her education at Hyde and the school’s connections with community based organizations, Alimi became socially conscious and active about the issues affecting her community.
And now, Alimi is about to graduate and is headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall to study computer science and animation as a Posse scholar — one of 740 chosen this year to attend college tuition-free by the nationwide Posse Foundation. The program selects students from public high schools and looks beyond traditional admissions criteria, such as SAT scores, to single out high-performing students and future leaders. They are then grouped in posses, groups of 10, where they will support each other with the help of mentors throughout their college careers.
Alimi first came to the Bronx in 2003 by way of her native Nigeria at the age of 4, when her mother won a lottery to come to the United States. Alimi’s mother now works nights as a nurse to support the family. Her father reunited with her family in Hunts Point in 2013 and is employed as a security guard and oftentimes works until 2 a.m. This leaves Alimi responsible for her two siblings, Isa, 2 and Arafat, 1, while also having to juggle school and extracurricular activities.
Watching her mother work so hard to support the family is part of what has motivated Alimi in school. ”She knows she struggles in New York but she’s the type of person who challenges herself, which is kind of hard to see her do because it hurts her,” said Alimi. It was her mother who brought her then-shy daughter to interview at Hyde in sixth grade – and the six years that followed put her on this path.
Mark Fusco, Alimi’s film and English teacher, first met Alimi during her sophomore year, when she told him she was interested in film. They managed to turn the film club from a group of two into a robust group that now has an active membership. Alimi and her classmates have made films about topics ranging from Pokémon Go to Justin Bieber. There’s even a film festival planned for next month.
Another one of Alimi’s favorite classes is civics and economics, where her teacher, Edward Johnson, incorporates current events into the curriculum. Alimi appreciates Johnson playing devil’s advocate to get the class to express their concerns and to think about the issues at hand.
“I think it’s important to realize that you can’t be on one side completely, or not acknowledge another person’s statements or opinions,” said Alimi. “Our civics class is able to bring out the importance of being open-minded, or to have a conversation instead of automatically judging.”
Outside of school, Alimi is a member of The Point’s A.C.T.I.O.N. group (Activist Coming To Inform Our Neighborhood) where she speaks to the community about topics affecting local residents, and is also a part of a campaign called “Redefining Rehabilitation,” where she and her high school colleagues examine different practices to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline. She has experienced the criminalization of her community through school metal detectors.
“I got patted down when I was in the sixth grade,” Alimi noted, acknowledging that this is an experience many children in the neighborhood share. “I was so confused but I never really asked questions because I thought this was a normal thing that everyone goes through. But the campaign made me realize that not everyone goes through the same procedures. It opened my eyes to what the system really is.”
Besides academics, extracurricular activities and taking care of her siblings, Alimi also works part-time at The Point to help with family expenses. “Everyone’s trying to scrape by,” she said.
Even with the new-found confidence through her academics and community work, Alimi hesitated at first to apply for the scholarship, but her teachers pushed her. Still, at the group interview, she was sure she would get rejected.
“There was this one girl who was talking about AP calculus. I couldn’t relate. She said she breathed calculus but I breath confusion. I was like, ‘That’s amazing, I’m definitely not getting in,’” she recalled.
But the Posse interviewers looked beyond test scores and accolades.
“They asked me about life at home and I got emotional because I struggle a lot,” Alimi said. “They don’t really judge why we got the low grades that we did. They got a better picture of us by hearing our reasonings.”
Joshua Williams, one of Alimi’s teachers and the director of development and communication at Hyde, has always believed in Alimi. “I had an experience where I was sitting with her and her mom during a parent teacher conference and I was talking about how hard working she was and I got kind of choked up.”
“I’m a little bit nervous for her to go so far away but I think it will be a good experience for her,” said Williams. “I also think it will be a great opportunity to grow, to be in new situations, to meet new people.”
That is what Alimi is looking for. After college, she plans to work at a non-profit to do app-development, while also doing animation on the side, but she is unsure about moving back to Hunts Point after college. She wonders if New York will still have a place for her when she returns, but for now, she is excited about the next chapter of her life.
“It’s just about reaching for different opportunities,” said Alimi, who would also like to study in South Korea or Japan. “I’m not going to grow if I stay in New York City. I feel like I have to expand and move onto new experiences for me to grow as an individual and broaden my perspective.”