A Rhode Island teenager with a million dollar idea

At a ceremony Thursday, Mariam discovered that her idea for a program that provides career exploration, financial literacy and mental health wellness opportunities for youth of color was the winner.

A team from Papitto Opportunity Connection will not only develop the $1 million program – Mariam will also be involved in the design and implementation. She also receives a $25,000 scholarship.

“I just want to say thank you,” Mariam said, as her mother, Madjouma Diarrassouba, and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green wiped away tears as they stood beside her. . “I’m shaking. I’m in shock. I don’t know what to say.

Mariam Kaba’s first-place idea for the Transform Rhode Island Scholarship revolves around creating jobs and providing mental health resources to youth of color.Sophie Park

The award was a proud moment for her family — and for all of her classmates at Woonsocket, where Mariam is also a mentor, trained in teen mental health first aid from high school, and active in working with teens to solve conflicts, said senior assistant Karen Barbosa.

“She’s thoughtful, humble, fun, a beautiful person,” Barbosa said. “I have chills for our students there. It represents the possibilities that exist for them.

Mariam was joined by four other teenage finalists who were selected from nearly 100 applicants from 37 Rhode Island schools. The finalists were selected by a panel of judges including Ford Foundation Chairman Darren Walker, Infante Green and Papitto Managing Director John Tarantino.

“We knew there were young people out there who wanted to improve their communities,” Tarantino said. “All they needed was a chance to prove themselves.”

Walker told the audience that he grew up in a shotgun shack in Texas when a new program called Head Start changed the trajectory of his life. Now, as chairman of the $16 billion philanthropic foundation, Walker sees opportunities to transform the lives of others and has spoken to students about how they could do the same.

“The ideas were so deep, and the idea that it [Papitto Opportunity Connection] The foundation said, “Tell us your dream for your community of color, it’s about black and brown excellence,” Walker said. “The work you do will change America.”

The other four finalists received grants for their ideas:

$15,000 scholarship: Jalisa Ramos from Providence — Grade 11, Metropolitan Regional Center for Careers and Techniques; Big Idea: Urban Agriculture Project — create a sustainable urban agriculture project to address food insecurity and create access to healthy food.

$15,000 scholarship: Daisha Jackson from Providence — Grade 11, Metropolitan Regional Center for Careers and Techniques; Big idea: create yoga mats with a QR code that would provide ever-changing information about mental health and well-being.

$10,000 scholarship: Isabelle Mitchell of Franklin, Mass. — 10th year, Wheeler School; Big Idea: Create an annual BIPOC festival to celebrate the work and strength of BIPOC communities.

$2,500 scholarship: Ziondre Ogiba from Providence — Grade 12, Metropolitan Regional Center for Careers and Techniques; Big Idea: A program that combines athletics and education to combat summer learning loss.

Barbara Papitto, founder of Papitto Opportunity Connection, left to right, John Tarantino, administrator of Papitto Opportunity Connection, finalist Isabelle Mitchell, 15, first place Mariam Kaba, 16, finalist Ziondre Ogiba, 17, finalist Jalisa Ramos, 17 16-year-old finalist Daisha Jackson and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker pose for a photo onstage at Farm Fresh Rhode Island in Providence Thursday night.
Sophie Park

Papitto Opportunity Connection is a private, nonprofit organization founded by Barbara Papitto that funds scholarships and initiatives in housing, education, business, and enterprise to benefit people of color. Its Board of Directors is made up of BIPOC entrepreneurs and Rhode Island leaders.

Walker later said the nonprofit’s mission was unique and important.

“It’s innovative. It’s bold. That’s exactly what great, local, community-focused philanthropy is all about,” Walker said.

“Foundations like Papitto and initiatives like this challenge are really essential to building a strong community. Philanthropy is about hope,” he added. “These young people who are finalists, yes, they will get scholarships, which is essential for their development, but they also receive a big boost of hope. And, there is nothing more essential than hope for young people, especially now, when it is so easy to be hopeless and discouraged. Occasions like this remind us that hope is the oxygen of democracy.


Amanda Milkovits can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.

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