By Safiyyah Muhammad
Eighteen-year old Aaliyah Stewart, winner of the Young Entrepreneur 2019 Legacy Award and resident of Gary, Indiana has experienced a kaleidoscope of loss and triumph. Stewart who is a proud recipient of the Legacy Award and founder of the “I Am Them” movement wants everyone to continue to support the event because she believes the award foundation is doing some awesome things for young people.
By the time Ms. Stewart was just 15, two brothers, and another family member were lost to gun violence. She also endured the loss of 12 other people she knew who was tragically gunned down. Armed with determination, strength and resilience, Ms. Stewart turned her loses into a youth healing ministry called “I Am Them.”
“With the death of my two brothers, my tests became my testimony. I started the “I Am Them” initiative when I was 14. ‘I am them. I am my youth,’ is an empowerment phrase I created to instill in our youth know that no matter what they go through, and where they come from, they have potential (for greatness).”
We often hear media rhetoric and shocking statistics about Black youth who are caught in gun violence, however, Ms. Stewart is a shining example of ‘let’s prove them wrong.” She’s out front as a young leader steering her peers in the right direction, stressing to her audience to be a positive example for each other.
“We are the future for tomorrow’s youth, and if a young person doesn’t stand up and demonstrate a positive way, how can we expect an older generation to believe in us?” Ms. Stewart said.
This year has been a year of extensive travel and triumph for Stewart. She crisscrossed the country with the “I Am Them,” movement, appearing on TV and radio talk such as Strahan, Sara & Ke Ke talk show, Good Morning America website, Good Morning La La Land, Faith Nation, WGN News, ABC News, Windy City Live.
She served as a motivational speaker during the I Am Sneaker Gala, Gun Violence Prevention Summit, Worthy Empowerment Tour, Stop the Violence Domestic Violence Awareness Month, among others. She spoke on-air regarding her movement with Power 92, WVON, WGCI and Truth Radio.
Stewart believes that more community-based organizations and activities for area youths would curb violent activities. A lack of focus towards life’s goal and life’s purpose is lacking in the lives of today’s youth she said. “If a lot of young people knew who they were and connected their potential with their purpose, each of their lives would be different.”
Research shows that during the first second half of the year, the number of Gary shooting victims rose, while gang-related violence decreased, according to an online Northwest Indiana news service.
“Gun violence is an epidemic that we try to patch up and act as if it doesn’t exist. We try to give it different names and look at this problem as if it’s not a serious issue. This problem is just as serious as someone dying of cancer,” Ms. Stewart said.
She juggles a full-time schedule as a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and mentor. “We give young people an opportunity to discover their unique talents and gifts. A lot of them want to become entrepreneurs and our job is to basically help them to reach their highest and greatest mission in life.”
Dedication and commitment have earned her many awarding including the Peace Activist of the Year Award, the G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) Award, the Project Strong Woman Award from Australia, City of Gary Youth Events Award and Rose Volunteer Award.
In June of 2020, the I Am Youth Center will open its doors to Gary’s youth. This unique multi-purpose center will host a simulated trauma center to train young people on how to care for gunshot wounds. The Center will also serve as a temporary residence and safe haven for teens seeking support.
Turning hate into hope, and anguish into an amazing life, Ms. Stewart’s “I Am Them” movement serves as a beacon of light for teens seeking to better themselves each and every day.
Aaliyah is the founder of the ASW Foundation, an organization she established to provide hope for Gary’s youth. She also manages a scholarship foundation in memory of her brother to help high school students entering college. You may visit her website at www.iamthem.org. You can find Aaliyah on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To book her as a motivational speaker please contact her at 219-730-7621.