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Thank you to the Addison Times for the use of this article.

Makayla Terrell won’t forget this year’s first day of school, even though she was over 700 miles from Shelbyville. The 17-year-old high school senior was instead absorbing all she could at Barnard College, a private women’s institution that is part of Columbia University in New York, N.Y., as an attendee at the Black Girls Lead conference.

Makayla, the daughter of Samuel and Nicole Terrell, returned home to SHS last week with the following sentiment: “I’m ready to go to college.”

Following a review of applications received from all over the world, Black Girls Lead organizers scholarship sixty students for the conference and issue the first leadership challenge: show financial commitment by using GoFundMe to cover campus housing fees. Within a few days, Makayla’s connections, including several Shelbyville Central Schools teachers and administrators, had given nearly $1,000.

She covered her own airfare. “And I worked all summer for it,” she said of her job at the local Cracker Barrel, which she maintains, working Sundays throughout the school year.

While her sister, Malea, 16, attended volleyball camp, Mr. and Mrs. Terrell accompanied Makayla to New York City in late July, helped her settle onto campus in upper Manhattan, and then returned home. The next five days for Makayla were filled with engaging workshops and lectures that covered the gamut from leadership skills and college preparation to financial literacy.

Beyonce’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, delivered an impactful keynote speech, as well.

“I love Queen B,” Terrell said. “I came back inspired. I grew so much as a person in a week.”

Conference participants also discussed current vexing social justice issues.

“It is amazing that we live in a century where women are still seen as inferior and black women are not seen at all,” Makayla Terrell quoted from her application essay in an interview with The Addison Times last week. “…with these inferiorities that are placed upon black women, we tend to see that self-worth and low self-esteem have become the most critical issues that are facing black women and girls of color today.”

Even the fleeting downtime provided an opportunity for Terrell to engage in new conversation topics. During one thirty-minute break, she and fellow participants talked about hair care and various products.

“I told my dad that I never get to have that conversation with any of my peers at high school,” Makayla said. “I just talk to my sister, cousins, and parents (about it).”

Despite not knowing any other attendees beforehand, Makayla quickly made friends, including two in the Indianapolis area with whom she promised to keep in touch. She’s also participating in Black Girls Rock group chats on social media.

With less than a year to decide, Terrell currently plans to major in human biology and is considering Spelman College, a historically black college/university (HBCU), and Indiana University, among others. In the meantime, she will rely on her strong group of family and friends to encourage her leadership development throughout the last year of high school. Two of those mentors live right at home, Makayla said of her parents.

“My mom is my biggest influence,” she said. “My mom works so hard, she is my inspiration. I strive to be like her.”

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