Jazzed About the Future

Jazzed About the Future

Last updated: December 16, 2016, at 11:35 a.m. PT

Originally published: November 16, 2016, at 3:02 p.m. PT

Improvisation – in jazz and in life – is part of the experience. But when you’re 18, you can either see your future as full of great opportunities and choices or riddled with obstacles and difficult decisions.  What makes the critical difference in perspective?

Just ask Jordan Leonard, 18. To listen to Jordan talk about his future is to hear a young man with confidence, poise and determination well beyond his years.  The past three of them were spent in the YMCA’s Black Achievers Program, which Jordan believes played a key role in where his is now and how he views his future.

Jordan, raised in a working class family, grew up in Skyway (south Seattle) and graduated from Franklin High School in 2010. He’s now a freshman at Pitzer College, part of the network of liberal arts colleges in Claremont, California.  A tenor saxophonist and composer, his creative side and inquisitive mind grew and thrived through Black Achievers, which guides youth in setting and pursuing high education and career goals.

“We got a taste of everything – engineering, medicine, theater, you name it. It really helped me to sort out my interests and gain skills like public speaking,” says Jordan.  “And the mentors are incredible.  These are people who have demanding jobs during the week and then show up at 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays because they care.”

Over time in Black Achievers, Jordan started visualizing a career in education, music and/or community programs. The journey continues today at Pitzer, where he’s focused on his core classes and designing his major (likely Africana studies, with an emphasis in Humanities or History).  Long range, he’d like to study abroad in Ghana, Nigeria or South Africa, and perhaps go after a Master’s or Ph.D and teach.  He’s excited about working to intersect his key interests into a profession that he can truly enjoy.

“Growing up, I heard a lot of kids say, ‘I need to make money now,’ but it’s not all about that,” says Jordan. You’re going to be spending 40 hours or more of your week at your job for most of your life.  You might as well like it!”

A big part of liking his future job will be giving back to society. Through Black Achievers, Jordan also got a close-up look at serious needs in his community – like homelessness and hunger – and got a chance to respond.  He also helped to organize the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events each year.

“The social responsibility part of the program gave me a sense of humility and understanding that no matter how different we are, we’re still all connected and we can each make a difference. I know that my life’s work is going to involve that message – in more ways than one.”