Yonas Araya is a 16-year-old student at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. He is one of the 8 students invited to the White House to offer their voices to the policy makers at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

14 June 2014 | News

These students continue to enjoy success by being invited to speak at the National Education Forum and will be traveling to the Department of Education this summer to share their perspective. I sat down with Yonas at T.C. Williams to discuss this incredible journey and to learn what it’s like to grow up as a minority in America without a father. And I also wanted to find out who, if anyone is his Mentor.

Yonas is a very confident and charismatic young student, musician and poet. He joined T.C. William’s Poetry Club to learn and practice new writing techniques and to inspire anyone out there who might learn from his struggles. Yonas is a first generation American living with his mother and two younger siblings. At 16, he has become the man of the house and a father figure. This is a responsibility he does not take lightly.

“I have developed a deep mistrust. Never having a real father figure, it has been hard for me to accepts Mentors in my life.” Yonas commented. “Joseph [Green] has been the only male figure in my while who is having a positive influence on me.”

Yonas says that he uses music as a creative outlet to express his feelings in a positive way. In addition to writing songs and poetry, he plays the piano, guitar and saxophone.

“Life could have been easier,” Yonas told me. “But I am glad for the lessons I’ve learned by not having a father to guide me. It motivated me to mentor my peers, my little brother and sister. Without those struggles, I wouldn’t be me.”

Yonas certainly has the courage to stay strong in the face of adversity. Recently he stood in front of 700 of his senior peers at T.C. Williams H.S. performing one of his slam poems, sharing his personal testimony and commitment to lead a drug free and positive life.

His advice for anyone interested in becoming a Mentor: “Lack of time is not a good enough excuse to not be a Mentor. You could and should be mentoring. You make time for everything else, therefore you can make time to mentor. One person can make all the difference and guide someone in the right direction, who may otherwise be lost.”