Ke’la completed a mental health research project through the MN Department of Education’s YPAR (Youth Participatory Action Research Project) program, an approach in which young people conduct research to improve their lives and communities. Ke’la was part of a focus group for the project and even traveled to San Francisco to share her findings. The project specifically focused on mental health for Minneapolis public high school students:
“We did surveys and mental health is a real issue,” Ke’la explained. “It should be a bigger part of the upbringing of newer generations. Mental health should be more normalized. Men should be able to share out more often. Men and young boys need a mentor. They don’t see that they have options. When people say mental health, they think ‘crazy.’ But deep down, we all have mental health issues.”
Ke’la’s mental health research highlighted a need for mental health dialogue particularly in communities of color like her own. “Even though the survey was anonymous, it shook me. It’s serious. People don’t get to talk about it but it’s all true. Especially in colored communities. It’s very diverse and we have different cultures. We have to look into the race difference and how that balances into why mental health isn’t known in that type of community.”
Ke’la’s passion is to work on taking care of her mind and body daily as she juggles work, school, and extracurriculars. She cooks healthy foods, creates food plans, exercises with her friends, and participates in Step Team at school.
“When we go to [Step] practice, we step for a reason,” she says. “If you’re angry, step it out. If you’re sad, step it out. If you’re stressed, step it out. This time of year, there is seasonal depression. It’s difficult for many people. I always check in with people and they check in on me.”
Ke’la won the prestigious honor of Youth of the Year at the Boys & Girls Clubs due to her excellent character, leadership, and service to the community. She will now have a platform from which she can promote mental health awareness and influence her peers. Ke’la’s ultimate dream is to acquire an internship with Step Up and pursue social work following high school graduation.