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Giving Thanks for Second Chances

In this season of giving thanks, sophomore Mame Diarra (Mumjahdah) AbdurRahman reflects on her gratitude for Mitchell College.

“Mitchell College has given me the second chance to have an educational experience. It accommodates my learning style and that eases my anxiety. I love to connect with staff on campus, mostly because they remind me that you can have a pleasant experience in school, be acknowledged for things you have accomplished and be recognized for where you are as a person,” she said.

“Two things drew me to Mitchell. I loved how President Espy is African American and looks like me, and it’s a college with learning accommodations.”

Mame Diarra, 27, was recently diagnosed with autism.

“I knew there was something going on with me,” she said. “But I didn’t know what. I felt like a misunderstood person.”

She attended two other colleges before Mitchell, where she first enrolled early in the pandemic, when classes were on Zoom. After less than a semester, she decided to take a break from school.

“I wasn’t going to come back at all,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m kind of done. I don’t want to do school anymore. I’m over it.’”

Mame Diarra went back home to Oakland, Calif., where she said she started working on herself by working out and eating right.

“I saw what the worst possibility was, and I saw what the best possibility was,” she said.

She returned to an organization – Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) – where she has been involved since 2013, both as a volunteer and an employee. An interfaith art jobs and job training program for homeless and low-income youth in the San Francisco Bay area, the organization focuses on giving youth the skills, experience and self-confidence to empower and transform their lives.

Mame Diarra went back to work as a resident assistant in the organization’s Tiny House Empowerment Village, transitional youth housing.

“Tiny House Village changed my life. It allowed me the space and time to work on myself mentally and physically while helping low-income and at-risk youth. It was my home and community that I stay connected with,” she said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to do many things for YSA – doing art and writing poetry, learning how to run a nonprofit and speaking at rallies and council meetings on behalf of the organization. It has grown me personally and professionally over the years.”

Mame Diarra, a singer since childhood, also discovered that she has a talent for poetry when poet Charles Blackwell visited YSA in 2015.

“He said I was a talented writer and started mentoring me. It was intense, but it shaped my poetry. My past traumas and stuff I never got the chance to say inspires my poetry. My dad died when I was 16. My family would do things to honor him but wouldn’t talk about how I was in pain. Putting my feelings on paper was therapy for me.”

Mame Diarra said her poetry also comes from laughter; she can make anyone laugh and sees laughter as medicine. She likes that “grammar doesn’t count” in poetry and ideas can be expressed in any way.

“My poetry comes to me when it comes to me. Most of my deeper poetry is God-directed because it’s something outside of me. It’s within my human experience, but something outside of me – an unknown source – directs me to do it. I write it down and it’s beautiful. It’s a stream. I don’t craft it.”

Her poetry has been published in several periodicals and is now in a newly published book, “It Takes a Village: Tiny Houses, Big Voices” (Youth Spirit Artworks).

A psychology major and criminal justice minor, Mame Diarra has a goal of opening up a restorative justice organization to give kids who are looked at as rebellious a chance to reform in elementary school or even college.

“I want to be that person to advocate for an African American kid in an all-white setting who needs more guidance. When I hear about rebellious kids, I say a secret prayer and wish them the best, but I want to be the person who says to them, ‘Where does this come from, how can you help yourself?’ and help bring something positive to them.’”

For now, Mame Diarra is grateful to have returned to Mitchell after her almost two-year hiatus.

“I was at home on my balcony one night and said, ‘God, I want my education again. Should I go back to New London?’ I woke up with the sudden urge to go back,” she said.

“I think it’s very important to practice gratitude. It is what makes the forces that we can’t see balanced.”


To read one of Mame Diarra’s poems, click here.