MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Empowering young men and women is Leshundra Robinson’s mission.
“It started because my brother was a victim of bullying and a mental illness and he actually committed suicide at the age of 27,” said Robinson, co-founder and executive director of UCAN of Memphis. “So we wanted to have his legacy be within the community itself.”
Her brother asked her to help people like him before he passed.
“That’s exactly why we have the bullying prevention, all types of things that are there for students so they can know it’s okay to say I’m not okay,” Robinson explained. “That was one of the things that my brother wanted me to let people know.”
UCAN addresses the needs of at-risk teens in Memphis and Shelby County at six schools.
Odalis Santillan, a 10th grader at Bluff City High School, has been with the program for 6 months.
“In 6th grade, I was bullied before and I was scared to tell the teacher,” said Santillan. “After I told them, I had to speak with the counselor and the counselor told me what to do.”
Eleventh grader Daniela Robles loves having a mentor and a big sister part of an in-school program.
“The magic carpet one we did,” Robles said recalling a group activity. “We had to flip the carpet over without touching the floor. And it was really fun because we bonded together.”
Robles has plans to be an interpreter after she graduates from college and said UCAN is helping her with leadership skills.
“That’s what we want to make sure that our students understand,” added Robinson. “There’s no limitation on what you’re able to do. There’s no zip code that says that it’s going to define you to be what you are or who you are.”
Freshman Allisa Coleman, a dance captain in the band, is also learning the importance of speaking out on injustices.
“The best thing I took away from it was to tell somebody and don’t be afraid to listen to other people, because it’s like who are they?” said Coleman. “Why do they tell you who you could be? Why do they have the right to bully you?”
Valuable lessons are passed on from brother to sister and onto the next generation.