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Head shot of JaMaal - LMC Intern

When I was little it was just me, my older sister, and our parents. I loved being able to spend as much time with them as I wanted. They were always giving us gifts and pretty much anything we needed or wanted. I guess you could say I was kind of spoiled. As I got older, my mom had my little brother and sister and things changed... a lot. Now there are four of us kids and my mom and dad have to work even harder to take care of us.

Once I started high school and I was old enough to work I wanted to find a way to help. I wanted to learn how to become a leader and I wanted to make sure that my little brother and sister got to have the same opportunities and privileges that I had at their age. I knew that I needed to figure out how to make my own money and how to manage it too.

Intern JaMaal moving a tire

JaMaal showing new interns how to work together as a team

That’s when I found LMC

Some friends of mine told me about the Intern & Leadership program at Lookout Mountain Conservancy and I thought it sounded like a good opportunity. I will never forget my first week out on the mountain. See, I played football already and I thought I was in really good shape but man, I was out there sweatin’! There is just something different about working in the heat than playing in it. But after I made it through my volunteer hours I was hooked. I was already making new friends and I could tell that the work I was doing was important. At the end of the day, I was tired, but I felt good.

I definitely had one or two hiccups that first summer. To be honest, I have had a few hiccups since I started. No matter how much I wanted to prove myself I just kept getting in my own way. I got into it with other interns over petty issues. When it’s hot outside it’s easy to let things get the best of you but that isn’t an excuse. I learned right away that although I wanted to be a leader, I wasn’t quite ready.

At one point I was even demoted to a white shirt, which is the same thing as starting all over again. It didn’t feel good to wear a shirt that meant I was outranked by brand new interns. I think that was the turning point for me. I needed to be patient, watch my peers, and learn. I was ready to take on the responsibility of owning my actions and becoming a leader.

That’s the thing about the program. It makes you realize how important it is to be part of a team, to be able to work with all kinds of people (even ones you might not like or agree with) and that everyone has something they are good at.

Intern JaMaal receiving his red shirts

Senior interns, Tay and Kobe, presenting JaMaal with his hard-earned red shirt

Becoming the man I was meant to be

I have been in the program for three years and now I am a leader. I earned that red shirt! I worked hard and I know how to use our equipment safely, I know my way around the property, and I know what is expected of me. Most importantly, I learned how to control my emotions and take responsibility for how I react to situations. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to help teach newer interns how to be part of the team. I still have to be reminded from time to time to be patient and to listen, but I have matured a lot. I am a much better listener at work, in school, and at home. I am proud to say I’m more open to criticism too. I can take constructive criticism and use it to improve myself when before I might have gotten defensive or even angry.

Since the beginning I wanted to learn more about being a leader so I could make a difference in my community. With the help of Ms. Robyn and Ms. Holly I was able to start my own nonprofit organization to help young black boys in middle school. When I was in middle school, I needed someone to help me, someone to look up to, so I decided to create Young Brothers Succeeding. I plan to use this program to mentor and support these kids the way I wished someone could have done for me at their age and the way LMC has worked for me.

"When I was at my lowest, LMC was there for me. They gave me someone to talk to and share my feelings with without being judged or mistreated. I felt supported and safe because this is a family. I think everyone needs that."

When I graduate high school next year, I plan to attend college to study medicine. I hope to continue making a difference and helping people and I think that becoming a doctor would be the best way for me to do that. I hope to set an example for my younger siblings and for the young people in my community. If I can do it, they can too!

-JaMaal M.