Before 18-year-old Jarrel Washington was selected as a 2013 Bank of America Student Leader, he had already developed a passion for serving and inspiring underprivileged minority youth.
As a young African-American who lived in several different cities growing up—including Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, Maywood, IL, and Downers Grove—he was struck by the lack of minority leaders in his schools and communities.
"I've seen a lot of different things in different areas, but the one thing that was constant was the lack of minority representation in leadership positions. That didn't sit well," Washington said. "Coming from very humble beginnings in an area where you don't see a lot of minority role models, it triggered something in me at a very young age."
Throughout his high school career, Washington worked hard to take an active role in various organizations and initiatives, including the Future African-American Leaders and Your Black is Beautiful Club.
About a year ago, Washington moved to Downers Grove with his family and spent his senior year at Downers Grove South High School. During that time, he learned about the Bank of America Student Leaders program, which awards 225 high school juniors and seniors from around the country with paid summer internships and local nonprofit organizations.
The program was started to provide teenagers with access to jobs that will bolster their work and life skills, while also benefiting their communities.
“Teens are once again facing a tough time finding summer jobs,” said Tim Maloney, Bank of America Illinois President. “Our Student Leaders program provides them the opportunity to earn and learn, while increasing the capacity of nonprofits to serve critical community needs.”
Washington was one of five Chicago-area students chosen for the 2013 Student Leaders program. Last month, they spent a week at the Bank of America Student Leadership Summit in Washington D.C., where they attended workshops on leadership and service, and learned about the collaboration between government and nonprofits.
As part of the program, Washington was also awarded an eight-week internship with the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. He works in the Morgan Park location, managing a performing arts program and sharing his passion for theater with local kids.
"I really appreciate that I've been given this opportunity to work at the Morgan Park Boys and Girls Club," Washington said. "What they do for the community and kids is amazing. People don't really realize the impact they have or how key they are in the development of kids."
Following his internship, Washington will head to Western Illinois University this fall to study marketing. He hopes to combine his business education with his love of performing arts and eventually go into public relations.
Washington also hopes to use his internship experience to start a nonprofit of his own one day—one that will further his goal of inspiring minority youth.
"I want to have a panel of people of different ethnicities with strong stories of success," Washington said. "I want to put them together and have them travel to different places so they can give back and inspire hope."
Washington said he hopes all kids take advantage of every opportunity they are given and work to become leaders in their own communities—regardless of their ethnicity, religion or social standing.
"It's really key for other people to know that no matter where they come from, what they've been through or where they're at, there's always something greater," he said.
Washington said he also hopes his own successes help pave the way for others who want to be leaders and achieve their dreams.
"There's an Oprah Winfrey quote that says, 'For every one of us that succeeds, it's because somebody was there to show us the way out,'" Washington said. "I carry that with me because my whole goal is to inspire greatness. People should be inspiring each other and looking at each other to be great."