Volunteer Kevin Naiker

college application

Meet Kevin Naiker, Director of College Coaching who went from anti-Apartheid activist to college access educator, now teaching at Howard Community College.

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, during the Apartheid era. Education was considered a luxury for African Americans. Certainly not a given. No one expected I would go to college.

I remember one day the whole class was filling out college applications, but the teacher never handed me one. When I asked why, everyone laughed. Imagine that feeling.

But I was an avid athlete in high school, and excelled at cross country and track. My coach started to take an interest in me. He helped me fill out college applications and apply for scholarships.

After filling out that college application, I became the first in my family to both graduate high school and go to college.

At the University of Cape Town, I quickly immersed myself in anti-apartheid activism and majored in Geology and Psychology. While doing my honors, I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere in South Africa, so I got a Fulbright scholarship to come to the US for my Masters in Counseling Psychology at the University of Maryland. I selected psychology because that’s what the Apartheid leaders used as a tool of oppression. I wanted to learn more how to use it as a tool for empowerment.

Suddenly I had a scholarship to get my doctorate at Howard University. While there, I visited Gayana, South America, with a friend who was studying at Oxford. When I returned, my scholarship had expired. An advisor there pointed me to a part-time position as a counselor at the University of the District of Columbia. That was my first role in college access – and I ended up in the field for 14 years!

In 2004, a colleague of mine was a volunteer for PeerForward. They sent me info on workshops, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. They followed-up again and asked if I’d attend a volunteer orientation at a local DC restaurant. “Free food!” I thought. They got me. I went off to the University of Chicago to serve as a College Coach.

Someone once told me “You give but little when you give up your possessions. It is when you give up yourself that you truly give.” The latter part of that makes me think of my time with PeerForward.

This one time, a young lady came up to me and said “Do you remember me?” I said “No, should I?” and she said “You were my College Coach at the University of Chicago. I want you to know that I just graduated from law school.”

That’s when you know you’re making a difference. Sometimes when I question myself or go through tough times, I read the notes that Peer Leaders wrote me. That’s what keeps me going.

Just the fact that one person in my life cared made the difference. Maybe I’ve been that person to a Peer Leader.

My message? Listen to the haters – let them impact you. And then push them aside.

To learn how to volunteer, visit peerforward.org/volunteer. If you have any questions or would like to request more information, please contact Natasha Bailey at nbailey@peerforward.org

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