Suazo graduates with a degree in youth development. Her goal is to empower young people.
“I believe there’s a leader in everyone,” said 21-year-old Marleni Suazo, who has spent most of her young life finding it in herself and drawing it out of the youth in her community. Suazo graduated from Rhode Island College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in youth development and a Certificate of Undergraduate Study in nonprofit studies.
Her work in youth development began in her senior year at Hope High School, where she was asked to sit on a steering committee to create a new school situated within the walls of Hope High. The school is called 360 High School, and her work involved designing and developing the curriculum, with emphasis on student-centered learning; experiential learning; and the development of future world leaders, innovators and problem solvers.
Over the past four years, Marleni has continued to carry out the mission of 360 High School by working with education programs outside of the traditional school system that teach youth how to take agency over their learning and their lives.
She recruited ESL students at Alvarez High School to participate in an after-school program called Young Voices. As program leader, she created a curriculum designed to prepare them to become civic leaders and advocates in their schools and communities. Through leadership training, they learned public speaking, policy analysis and critical thinking, and they were given the opportunity to practice these skills in the real world.
Her other volunteer and paid community service work include youth leadership roles at the Boys and Girls Club, the Robert L. Bailey Elementary School and The Met High School. Following graduation, Suazo will take on a full-time position as counselor for middle school girls at the YWCA, teaching social justice.
“What’s most important to me,” Suazo said, “is to be a role model. My mentor was and continues to be my youth pastor. He would always tell me, ‘You’re a leader, Marleni.’ I think if you tell someone something long enough, they’ll start to believe it. Our youth need role models; they need somebody who will see their potential and empower them. I believe there’s a leader in everyone.”
In her senior year, Suazo interned as a mentor at the Learning 4 Life center on RIC’s campus, supporting the academic success of her peers. “I wanted to give back,” she explained.
“When I came to Rhode Island College, I realized that I hadn’t been prepared for higher education. At RIC, I was sitting in a classroom with students who knew how to write essays in the APA and MLA styles, and I knew nothing,” she said. “For the first two years, I cried a lot because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was shy and I didn’t know how to ask for help from my professors.”
“Then my English professor invited me to stay after class.” Marleni stopped to wipe away tears. “She gave me her office hours,” she went on. “She taught me how to write in the format of an essay, and I would always go to her for help. I passed the class with a B. I was so happy. I finally learned how to write in the APA and MLA styles. For me, that was amazing. It was the first time I felt connected to the academic community.”
Suazo also made use of the Counseling Center and Learning 4 Life to help get her through bouts of anxiety and to point her to resources that would ensure her success as a college student.
Now, with a degree in youth development and a certificate in nonprofit studies, Marleni intends to do more of the same – empower youth.
“I grew up on the Southside of Providence and later moved to the Hartford Avenue projects,” she reflected. “I was surrounded by poverty. I knew I wanted to get out of the cycle of poverty. That’s why I went to college. I could have dropped out because I wasn’t prepared for college. I could have let the anxiety and stress take over. But I’m a person who has always taken risks.”
“Martin Luther King was also a person of faith who took risks,” she said. “There have been plenty of dark times for me, but faith has a power. I don’t say take away the challenges. Because those challenges do strengthen you. You do, in some respects, need that darkness to find the light within you.”
For her leadership and commitment to social justice, Suazo was awarded the Rhode Island College Rose Butler Browne Award.
On June 11 Marleni Suazo will be interviewed live on the Latin radio station Poder 1110-WPMZ (1110 AM).