Na’Kia Hughes believes it is important for young people to find their footing in the world and to play a role in shaping the future, especially in their communities.

Hughes, 17, of Kenosha, was chosen as the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha’s Youth of the Year. She will be honored by the club in September.

Currently a student at Harborside Academy, Hughes will graduate this year with honors and will be attending Hampton University, a historically black college in Hampton, Va. While there, her major area of study will be biology, with a minor in Spanish.

For the past week, she has been in Nashville, Tenn., working on her senior project as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, an organization with which Harborside partners. She helped paint eight new homes and installed landscaping throughout the subdivision, also owned by Habitat.

Hughes plans to become an orthopedic surgeon and hopes to come back to practice one day in her hometown, where she believes she can make a big difference.

Q: What does being the 2019 Youth of the Year mean to you?

A: Well, this isn’t the first time. I also won when I was a sophomore. I think it means that people see me now as a leader and younger people look up to me. People see the growth I’ve had since my sophomore year, too. I look back on it, and I wasn’t in the honor society or any clubs then, but now I’ve been in so many activities: Honor society, student ambassador.

I’ve started two clubs: “Culture Shock,” where we’re bringing multicultural awareness to my school, which is predominantly Caucasian, but we also have students who are black, Hispanic and Asian. And “Comfort Club,” where every month we have an open mic … a safe space where you can just be yourself. And it’s teenagers and teachers. Sometimes, we forget about our teachers and that they have feelings, too. It’s a place where everyone is just equal.

Q: How has the Boys & Girls Club helped in getting you to where you are today?

A: I’ve been a member since 2012, when I was in fifth grade. I actually had a friend who invited me to see it, and they gave us a tour and I liked it. I really like the teen center. I like it when people look up to me. They’ve helped me in finding that leadership role. They have a caring staff, and they believe in you and that motivates me. I think it’s important for kids to have people to go to. I’m the first generation in my family going to college. So, for me to be that person for other kids is something I want to do. I think it’s important for them to have someone to just learn from.

Q: Why did you choose the college that you’ll be attending this fall?

A: I chose Hampton because it’s a historically black college. All my life I’ve been going to a predominately white institutions, and I want to be around people in my culture and not feel like I’m the only one in my culture at a school. I wanted to feel that sense of home. I know (it’s far from Kenosha), but I need to be out there to experience it and become an adult.

When I went on the (Education Youth Development Outreach) college tour, I visited Hampton and I loved the school spirit. The students were so welcoming and excited to have us, and I thought that I’d love to be there, too.

Q: Where do you see yourself five to 10 years from now?

A: I want to be an orthopedic surgeon — unless something changes, because I also am interested in social issues. But hopefully, I’m embarking on a successful career in the medical field.

Q: What do people know you for now and what would you like your legacy to be?

A: Right now, people know me as someone passionate about my culture and people think of me as an advocate. I will always speak up for those who don’t have a voice. I hope in the future people will see me as a leader, too, but guiding some sort of movement. I want youth to have someone to look up to who looks like me. I also want to make an impact not just in the world but in my own community. I hope Kenosha will see me as a person who has helped their community grow stronger.

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