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This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue.
Even among the many extraordinary girls who have taken part in THR‘s Women in Entertainment mentorship program, Aisha stood out from the beginning. Living with her brother and single mother (an emigrant from the Caribbean), the 17-year-old high-school senior has shuttled between her mother’s house and her sister’s apartment in Inglewood, Calif., since she was a freshman so that she can pursue her studies at City Honors High School. With stellar grades and skyrocketing ambitions, she now is waiting to hear if she has been accepted at Northwestern University or UC Berkeley. In January, she began visiting her mentor, E! Entertainment president Suzanne Kolb. “From the moment I met Aisha, I knew she was incredibly special,” says Kolb. “I have learned as much from her as she could ever have learned from me. She’s a shining example of intelligence, character and heart. I look forward to cheering her on as she achieves all of her dreams and seeing her become a mentor to other women in the future.”
LIST: The Hollywood Reporter’s 2013 Women in Entertainment Power 100
Read Aisha’s essay below.
I cannot count the amount of times I have heard elders and even peers refer to someone as their “guardian angel” or “saving grace.” Despite this, I never gave much thought to the fact that a single person or event could forever change the course of my life. I’ve always known that knowledge is the key to success, but as a result of the Women in Entertainment Mentoring Program, I now understand that sometimes this vital knowledge cannot be learned from a book, but instead is delivered in a physical, more tangible form. In my case, it was delivered by an angel who answers to the name of Suzanne Kolb.
The WIE Mentoring Program is honestly the best thing that has ever happened to me. In December 2012, I was chosen along with 12 other girls from the Greater Los Angeles Area following an application process that included an essay and an interview that weeded out about 150 other applicants. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles in collaboration with The Hollywood Reporter cultivated WIE to expose girls to a professional world that they were oblivious to prior to their participation in the program. Every year, 13 women in Hollywood volunteer as mentors for a year to inner-city girls who are in need of role models. Many girls who were selected for the program, including myself, never really contemplated that women hold a significant amount of power in the world. This sad truth can partly be attributed to the fact that I attend school in an area where only 13 percent of the population has a college degree, and close to 40 percent are teen parents. In an environment as toxic as this, it is sometimes difficult to fathom that success is even possible.
STORY: The Hollywood Reporter’s Mentorship Program Turns 5
I remember my first visit with Suzanne like it was yesterday. I was expecting a school bus to pick me up, not a shiny, black Lincoln town car driven by a man who looked like he belonged in a Matrix movie. I was almost certain I was no longer living in reality when I stepped foot in Suzanne’s office. Am I in the right room? I thought. Maybe she thinks I am someone else. “Hi Aisha,” she said. Is she excited to see me? I doubt it — maybe she just had a really good lunch. As Suzanne and I began to talk, I realized she actually was excited to spend time with me. I couldn’t see what was so special about me, but in the past year she has helped me see it a little more every day.
Through my experiences in WIE, I realized that the “lofty” dreams and aspirations I had were not nearly high enough. Suzanne has inspired me to reach for stars that I never even knew existed. She has demonstrated through her words, actions and decisions that it is possible for me to be successful and extremely powerful while maintaining my self-worth, morals and modesty.
My mentor has changed my definition of “beauty.” I know now that true beauty emanates from one’s every pore. It entwines itself into one’s words, and exposes itself through one’s actions. It is so much more than physical appearance; it is one’s essence. My guardian angel came down from heaven less than one year ago and blessed me with an unfathomable beauty. Thanks to this program, I am aware that my potential provides me with a limitless future, and I am determined to take advantage of every opportunity in order to ensure that success is not just an option, but that it is my only option.
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