Domanique Rahman was part of the Lookout Mountain Conservancy’s Leadership Intern program from 2012 to 2019. Because of you, and so many like you, that experience proved to be life-changing and continues to allow young people, like Domanique, to shine. This summer, after he graduated from Knox College, he returned to LMC as staff. His story, and future plans, are explained in his own words below.
When finding purpose becomes a passion
If you knew me ten years ago, you’d know that I was pretty silly as a kid.
I played a lot because I always wanted to make others in my community smile and/or feel better. There was a lot of frustration and tension--even sadness surrounding us. Being silly was my chance to add some joy and laughter to those around me and inspire to change things for the better.
I wasn’t alone; I was fortunate enough to have a hardworking mom, a caring church family, and educational programs like Upward Bound: Math Science. Each encouraged and exposed me to different experiences, but that learning was sometimes in the abstract.
Growing up in Chattanooga, it’s easy to feel like the world is only as big as those around you and that your future is limited to the day-to-day challenges you face.
Luckily, The Howard High School provided me an opportunity to enroll in the Lookout Mountain Conservancy’s (LMC) Leadership Intern program, something that allowed me to get out of my in-door, avoid the woods, rut. Before the program, I never thought about why I would spend time outdoors, let alone work there.
A bit of a shock
When I first began working up on the Mountain, I wasn’t comfortable in the woods. I HATED dirt. I had minimal knowledge of how to work effectively outside in nature. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or grow a team as part of solving a challenge, like building trails or habitat restoration.
However, the long, hard, hot summers pulling nasty invasive plants like Kudzu and building trails from scratch--without construction equipment--taught me that stepping out of what you’re used to is okay and can result in personal growth. I learned through LMC that pushing myself to adapt and adjust outside my comfort zone can lead to great things.
These new skills and a new perspective, along with the help LMC provided with my applications, led me to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. It was a big lift. Just like pulling Kudzu and building trails, traveling so far from home was alien to what I knew.
The idea alone was an adjustment for not only me, but also my family and community. Many of my friends failed to see anything bigger than Tennessee or Georgia; in fact, some even assured my future failure. Little would they know this would be the first step in what was to come.
Jumpn’ out the nest
When I told my mom that I was going to Illinois for college, it hit a nerve, but not as much as when she learned of what was next. The skills I had gained up on the Mountain, especially knowing how to adjust and adapt, were about to translate to a larger shock to my community. What began as stepping out of my comfort zone to build trails led me to embracing different cultures around the world.
My next three years at Knox consisted of volunteer work, research, studies, and internships all across the world. As a freshman, I ventured across the ocean to volunteer and visited a friend in Sri Lanka. After a while, my mom saw my passion to travel and gave me her blessing.
So, I didn’t stop there; in fact, I kicked it up a notch.
After Sri Lanka I traveled to Africa (Cameroon & Botswana) in my junior year to study, conduct research, and intern.
Now, as an alumnus of Knox College, I have set the bar even further. I was recently accepted to serve with the Peace Corps in Botswana. For two years, I’ll serve as a life skills educator working with youth and HIV/AIDS prevention.
During my time there I’ll also have the opportunity to further immerse myself in Botswana culture and continue building my local language skills. Post Peace Corps, I plan to apply for Ph.D. programs in Applied Anthropology and conduct research either here in my community or back in Botswana.
Did this come to be naturally? Well, no.
It took a ton of hard work. But perhaps even more importantly, it took the seeds of what could be, that I gained working for the LMC internship program.
I credit my networking skills, and the desire to help others, to those early years up on the Mountain-- as well as my family and church.
Showing others what is possible
I’m really excited about my coming future in Botswana. What excites me more is navigating back to the spaces I was once a part of. When I come back, I always try my best to visit Howard, Upward Bound, and LMC.
I enjoy sharing my success with younger students because at one point I was sitting in their seats with the same, if not fewer resources.
I want students to realize that I am not a special case, I’m just one of a few cases that combined the LMC program and community support with hard work, focus, and dedication. In coming back I try to stretch the minds of others by expanding their values and ways of thinking. That’s one of the reasons Knox College awarded me the Philip Haring and John Houston award for being the senior who promoted the most international understanding.
Just as I had the chance to exchange cultures with people around the world, I want to someday give other students the same opportunities by leading my own exchange student program.
I have learned that if people believe in you, and invest in you as a person and your dreams, and if you combine that with a vision of what can be, amazing things can happen. I believe that together, we can create a world where helping others, and finding our common ground, is the foundation for the lives we lead. That’s another one of the things I learned up on the Mountain. The power of hope, one trail and one day, at a time.